Archaeologists digging in Peru unearthed a royal tomb containing an impressive treasure trove and mummified women dating back to about 1,200 years ago.
The discovery was made at a dig site north of Lima and is believed to be the location of what was once part of the Wari empire, the society that ruled the Andes before the eventual rise of the better known Inca civilization.
“We have found for the first time in Peruvian archaeological history, an imperial tomb of the Wari culture," co-director of the project Milosz Giersz said, according to the BBC. "The contents of the chamber consisted of 63 human bodies, most of them women, wrapped in funerary bundles buried in the typical seated position, a native Wari pattern."
The Wari ruled much of what is today Peru’s central highlands from around 600AD to 1100AD. Not much is known about the society that was eventually taken over by the Incan empire and there is heated debate over whether or not the Wari actually can be considered an empire.
Some scholars claim that the people were just a loose economic network of Wari centers, while others claim the Wari had a complex empire, noting its construction of an extensive network of roadways linking provincial cities and the construction of complex, characteristic architecture in its major centers as proof.
Archaeologists at the site in Peru found more than 60 skeletons inside the royal chamber, including three purported Wari queens bedecked in gold and silver jewelry and surrounded by ceramics. Some of the mummies were discovered sitting upright, which indicates royalty.
Six other bodies were found in odd positions that scientists said indicate that they were human sacrifices.
"They were people thrown into the grave before the grave was sealed," bioarchaeologist Wieslaw Wieckowski said, according to Reuters. "They were lying on their bellies, in an extended position and their limbs went in different directions."
The archaeologists also indicated that they had kept their work quiet because they feared theft or damage of the site from grave robbers and treasure hunters.