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ARCHAEOLOGY

Untouched treasure, remains from ancient South American empire discovered

  • Images of winged beings adorn a pair of gold-and-silver ear ornaments a high-ranking Wari woman wore to her grave. Archaeologists found the remains of 63 individuals, including three Wari queens, in the imperial tomb at El Castillo de Huarmey.Daniel Giannoni / National Geographic News

  • Protected from looters by 30 tons of stone, those interred in the mausoleum lay exactly where Wari attendants left them some 1,200 years ago. Archaeologist Krzysztof Makowski Hanula, the project√Ęs scientific adviser, describes the mausoleum as a pantheon where all the Wari nobles of the region were buried.Milosz Giersz / National Geographic News

  • With eyes wide open, a painted Wari lord stares out from the side of a 1,200-year-old ceramic flask found in a newly discovered tomb at El Castillo de Huarmey in Peru. The Wari forged South America's earliest empire between A.D. 700 and 1000.Daniel Giannoni / National Geographic News

Archaeologists uncovered a 1,200-year-old "temple of the dead" burial chamber filled with precious gold and silver artifacts and the remains of 63 individuals in Peru.

The discovery is the first unlooted tomb of the ancient South American Wari civilization from 700 to 1,000 A.D.

"We are talking about the first unearthed royal imperial tomb," University of Warsaw archeologist Milosz Giersz told National Geographic.

Gold and silver jewelry, bronze axes and gold tools occupied the impressive tomb which consisted of an ancient ceremonial room with a stone throne and a mysterious chamber sealed with 30 tons of stone fill.

"We are talking about the first unearthed royal imperial tomb."

- University of Warsaw archeologist Milosz Giersz

Intrigued, Giersz and his team continued to dig and found a large carved wooden mace.

"It was a tomb marker," Giersz said. "And we knew then that we had the main mausoleum."

As the archaeologists searched deeper, they found 60 human bodies buried in a seated position which were possibly victims of human sacrifice.

Nearby three bodies of Wari queens were also found along with inlaid gold and silver-ear ornaments, silver bowls, a rare alabaster drinking cup, cocoa leaf containers and brightly painted ceramics.

Gierzs and his team were stunned at their discovery, telling National Geographic they had never seen anything like it.

The Wari's vast empire was built in the 8th and 9th centuries A.D., and spanned across most of Peru. Huari, their Andean capital was once one of the world's greatest cities, populated with 40,000 people compared to Paris' mere 25,000 at the time.

Wari artifacts have long been subject to looters who seek out their rich imperial palaces and shrines. Gierzs and his project co-director Roberto Pimentel Nita managed to keep their dig a secret for many months in order to protect the previously untouched burial chamber.

The temple of the dead project scientific advisor Krzysztof Makowski Hanula told Nationahl Geographic the temple of the dead "is like a pantheon, like a mausoleum of all the Wari nobility in the region."