About a month ago I moved to Chiclayo, Peru, to spend the summer working at some local schools, Juan Mejia Baca. The region is different than what I had originally expected with beautiful beaches, natural desert forests, ancient pyramids, and a cold wind coming in from the coast. Because of its location (northwest), I didn’t expect to find much about ancient civilizations or history, I thought most of that was found in the south near Cusco. However, I was incredibly wrong. Just this past week I got to visit one of the most important tombs in archeological history, and it’s found right here in Chiclayo.
The Tombs of the Lord Sipan have been compared to the discovery of King Tut’s tomb in Egypt. They are one of the most important archeological discoveries in South America, and were found in almost perfect condition in 1987.
These tombs were left by the Moche culture, a people who preceded the Inca by about 1,000 years. Walter Alva and Luis Chero realized that there might be something big in the area after getting a phone call from the police. These policemen had caught a few looters and in the loot was a pure gold face, along with other valuable items.
Alva and Chero went to the site of Huaca Rajada and began digging. They were not able to sleep or leave the site as many locals had shown up to the site determined to find the gold for themselves. The two archeologists worked tirelessly to keep the area guarded and protected. For six months they lived on site, only eating spaghetti and beer because they could not afford to buy anything else.
The two together uncovered the tomb of the Lord of Sipan, which was untouched by looters. Inside they found beautiful headdresses, face masks, necklaces, gold, silver, shields, bone, stone, ornaments, banners, copper, and other ceremonial utensils. The artifacts are now held in two different museums in and around Chiclayo.
Visiting the tombs, it is easy to see what an amazing discovery this was, and what’s even more impressive is that they haven’t finished excavating. There is still a whole other side of the pyramid to uncover.