Students Find A Mummy In A Temple, Beneath A Peruvian Trash Site
Dump diving in Lima, archaeology students removed 8-tonnes of rubbish to reveal a rare, mummified body from Peru's ancient Manchay culture. Astonishingly, they also identified a colossal U-shaped sacred site encircling the deceased, offering new information on the ancient rituals and spiritual practices of the Manchay civilization.
Manchay Culture Bvurial in Lima
Known for their highly-skilled decorated pottery, and intricate textile production, the Manchay culture thrived in the Central Andes region of modern-day Peru from around 1000 BC to 1400 AD. Cultivating maize, beans, and squash, the Manchay also engaged in long distance trade, exchanging goods with neighboring and remote contemporary cultures.
Manchay religious rites were performed in U-shaped sacred enclosures referred to as a "Ushnu."
Most often oriented towards the rising sun, and constructed with stone or adobe bricks, Ushnu represented a point of connection between earthly and spiritual realms. This form of ceremonial platform was generally built on an elevated space, and they were community centers of religious rituals, including elaborate funerary practices.
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Archaeologists unearthed this roughly 3,000-year-old mummy in Peru, believed to be from the Manchay culture pic.twitter.com/r8ZRPGF9x2
— Reuters (@Reuters) June 15, 2023
Exhumed From A Trash Pile
The discovery of the mummy was fronted by archaeologist Miguel Aguilar, and a team of students from San Marcos University. A press release in Reuters said the researchers first removed eight tons of rubbish from the location, in the Rímac neighborhood of Lima, before they began their excavation. Aguilar said the team “first spotted the mummy's hair and skull.”
In a BBC News report, Dr. Aguilar explained that the mummy had been carefully wrapped in a cotton and vegetable fiber burial cloth, before being placed in a tomb, at the center of a U-shaped Ushnu. Dr. Aguilar added that the dead body had been laid out flat, which is characteristic for the Manchay culture of the "formative era,” between approximately 1000 BC and 200 AD.
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Was This Person A Sacrificial Offering?
During the "formative era" complex agricultural societies, like for example: Chavín, Paracas and Manchay, began to emerge in the Central Andes region of Peru. It was these cultures, and others, that brought about the cultural, social, and technological advancements that became the foundations for subsequent civilizations in the region.
Dr. Aguilar said the person discovered at the center of the Ushnu was “offered [as a sacrifice] during the last phase of construction of this temple." This detail suggests the person was sacrificed as part of a “foundation ritual,” which in South America were significant ceremonies conducted by ancient civilizations during the construction of important structures such as temples, pyramids, and palaces.
Skull of the mummy with hair, found in a dump in Lima. (Youtube Screenshot/Reuters)
Fusing With Heaven For Success
In the much later Inca Empire, foundation rituals were called "huacas," or "huarachicus" ceremonies. Involving priests and social officials, sacred rites were performed to appease deities and secure their blessings. Fear of earthquakes, floods, droughts and other environmental extremes, meant food, drink, textiles, precious metals and stones, and even human sacrifices were made in the name of the gods, to ensure protection of the sacred structure being built.
The foundation of temples involved a wide range of rituals, including bloodletting, fire offerings, and the placement of important symbolic objects within the building's foundation. However, in all cases across ancient South America, people attempted to establish spiritual connections between their sacred structures and divine realms.
Perhaps the strongest bond one could create with the heavens was mummification, which assured your soul would continue after the body's death in this life. And testimony to the preservation properties of the mummification process, it was only because this Manchay body was mummified, that it withstood the tests of a modern rubbish dump, and survived intact for 3,000 years.
Top image: Representative image of mummy in Nazca, Peru. Source: Matthias Kestel/Adobe Stock
By Ashley Cowie