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Photo of one of the burials discovered at Chan Chan, Peru.

Thirty Two Pre-Hispanic Mummies Uncovered in Peru


A team of Peruvian archaeologists have discovered 32 pre-Hispanic mummies at two separate sites located between La Libertad and Lima. The burials revealed skeletal remains, jewelry, textiles, and other artifacts. The majority of the graves were found at the Chan Chan archaeological site.

Chan Chan is a site encompassing nine small enclosed cities. It was the political and administrative capital of the Chimú civilization (900 – 1500 AD). The original site measured 20 square kilometers (7.7 square miles) and for this it has been called the largest mudbrick city in the world. This feature also led UNESCO to declare it a World Heritage Site in 1986.

The news agent La Información has published that all the human remains correspond to adults and the majority were women. Along with the skeletal remains, 87 pottery vessels, as well as textile fragments, copper rings, earrings, and sewing objects such as needles and thimbles were recovered. María Elena Córdova Burga, the director of the Decentralized Directorate of Culture of La Libertad, told El Comerico that “The scientific research will enable us to know much more about the funeral patterns in ancient Chimú. This is a very important discovery.”

Archaeologists working in the grave sites.

Archaeologists working in the grave sites. (La República)

The leader of the Chan Chan Special Research Project Unit, Nadia Gamarra Carranza, told La República that the artifacts are dated to approximately 1400 AD and that:

“The vast majority of the human remains we have been able to identify as female. They were probably buried to accompany the authorities which were interred in the main chamber of the funeral platform. We have also discovered the burials of textile workers in enclosures beside the burial chambers.”

The 31 bodies were found in nine cells, situated on both sides of the burial chamber. Gamarra also believes that they were buried at the same time as the main authority from the burial chamber in between, “who could be an administrator or governor, as the burial chambers are outside of the complex, which is where governors were normally buried.”

The graves were found three months ago and their discovery was kept secret so that the excavation and first analysis could be completed securely and without outside involvement. The find was made when reconstruction work began at the walled Xllangchic An area of the Chan Chan site.

Panorama of Chan Chan, the largest mudbrick city in the world.

Panorama of Chan Chan, the largest mudbrick city in the world. (Carlos Adampol Galindo/CC BY-SA 2.0)

All of the artifacts are being subjected to rigorous scientific testing. Some of the current focus includes analysis on the textiles (made up of red, yellow, ochre, brown, a white threads), femurs, skulls, ribs, and vertebrae.

One also must note that at the moment one of the most ambitious projects is underway at Chan Chan  - the restoration of the Huaca Toledo.

The Huaca Toledo measures approximately 20 meters (65.6 feet) tall, 20 meters (65.6 feet) across North-South, and 130 meters (426.5 feet) across East-West. These first few weeks of restoration have focused mostly on cleaning the area, putting up security signs, topographic work, and setting up camp, etc. It has been estimated that it will take 31 months to complete the full restoration work of the site.

Beginning work at the Huaca Toledo of Chan Chan.

Beginning work at the Huaca Toledo of Chan Chan. (Andina - Agencia Peruana de Noticias)

At the same time, in the La Molina district of Lima, police found another apparently ancient burial. This grave contained a woman covered in several textiles, according to the newspaper La Prensa. This mummy was found wrapped within a woven basket made of dried stalks. Cotton and corn were also found alongside the human remains and textiles.

An unnamed archaeologist told La Prensa that this other burial may be from the Pre-Hispanic Ichma/Ychma culture (aka the Lima culture.) The Ichma culture was a pre-Inca culture that flourished on the central coast of Peru from 900-1470 AD. The ceremonial center of the Ichma culture was Pachacamac.

Municipal police have closed off the area of the discovery of this other grave so that experts from the Ministry of Culture could move the mummy and begin excavations in the area, which is thought to possibly be the location of another Pre-Inca cemetery.

Researchers study and analyze some of the skeletal remains recovered at the Chan Chan site.

Researchers study and analyze some of the skeletal remains recovered at the Chan Chan site. ( La República)

Featured image: Photo of one of the burials discovered at Chan Chan, Peru. (Ministerio de Cultura de Perú)

By: Mariló TA

This article was first published in Spanish at and has been translated with permission.

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