Gold and silver treasures were discovered near the powerful Wari queen’s tomb with ‘elite craftspeople’ burials

The tomb of the ‘Lord of Huarmey’ was also discovered.

Archaeologists excavating a necropolis north of Lima discovered a 1,300-year-old ornate tomb from Peru’s Wari period. The tomb houses the relics of a powerful man known as the “Lord of Huarmey.”

The tomb includes the shrouded remains of an elite male, dubbed the “Lord of Huarmey,” and six other people, some of whom may have first been buried elsewhere and brought to the tomb later.

Six other people’s remains were discovered in the same tomb, with some likely reburied after being buried elsewhere. According to the University of Warsaw’s Faculty of Archaeology, the remains include four adults — possibly two males and two females — and three people who may be adolescents.

All of the remains in the tomb were buried with gold and silver jewelry, bronze tools, knives, axes, baskets, woven textiles, raw materials for basketry, and wood and leather items — an abundance of objects that lead archaeologists to believe the people buried there were skilled craftspeople as well as Wari elite members.
“We could call this section of the royal necropolis ‘The Gallery of Elite Craftsmen,'” Miosz Giersz, the project’s lead archaeologist at the University of Warsaw in Poland, told Live Science in an email. “We discovered the burials of male Wari elite who were also fine craftsmen and artists for the first time.”

The latest tomb was discovered in February at the Wari necropolis near the modern coastal town of Huarmey, in the Ancash region about 155 miles (250 kilometers) north of Lima. It is close to a larger tomb discovered in 2012 by Giersz and his wife, Patrycja Przdka-Giersz, an assistant professor at the University of Warsaw. This larger tomb housed the remains of three high-status women known as “Wari queens,” as previously reported by Live Science.

The queens were interred with the remains of 58 other people. The majority of the victims were noblewomen who were later buried, but some were from lower social classes and appear to have been sacrificed.

The most recent tomb was discovered in February beneath a larger tomb attributed to Wari “queens,” which was discovered ten years ago at Peru’s Castillo de Huarmey archaeological site.

The Andean Empire

From around A.D. 500 to 1000, the Wari people lived in towns on the mountains and coast of what is now Peru. They are well-known for their rich artistic tradition, which includes gold and silver jewelry, painted pottery and vibrant woven textiles.

According to a 2003 article by archaeologists at Chicago’s Field Museum, the Wari Empire existed around the same time as the Tiwanaku Empire further south, and the two Andean states were frequently rivals (opens in new tab). However, both the Wari and Tiwanaku empires had collapsed by the time the Inca Empire arose in the same areas around A.D. 1200.

The site near modern-day Huarmey includes a pyramidal structure known as “El Castillo de Huarmey,” which translates as “Huarmey’s Castle.” The structure has been known to researchers since at least the 1940s, but many assumed it was mostly empty due to grave robbers who had already looted its gold and silver.

However, excavations by Giersz and Przdka-Giersz in 2012 and 2013 revealed that it was an ancient Wari necropolis with at least one untouched tomb.

Following the excavation of the Wari queens’ tomb, Giersz discovered that Castillo de Huarmey was once “a large Wari mausoleum and site of ancestor worship on the Peruvian North Coast, an area that lies on the borders of the world controlled by the first Andean empire.”

The team also discovered more than 1,300 artifacts buried as grave gifts in the Wari queens’ tomb, including valuable objects made of gold, silver, bronze, precious gems, wood, bone, and shells, he said.

These silver ear spools were among the grave goods interred in the tomb with the seven people buried there around 1,300 years ago.

Tomb of Wari

Giersz believes the “Lord of Huarmey” and the other people buried in the newly discovered tomb were Wari elite and highly skilled craftspeople.

“The golden and silver artifacts that they have deposited with them support this assumption,” he said. “Both men and women buried in Castillo de Huarmey’s royal necropolis were directly connected with the highest level of craft production and produced the finest luxury goods of their era.”

The discoveries show that Castillo de Huarmey was an important administrative center of the Wari Empire, as well as a place of production of the finest handicrafts in the domain, particularly exclusive clothing… metal ornaments, and jewelry, he said.

The Royal Ontario Museum’s archaeologist Justin Jennings was not involved in the latest study, but he has excavated other Wari sites in Peru.

He described the latest discoveries as “spectacular,” but cautioned that the function of the Castillo de Huarmey site during the Wari era is unknown. According to Giersz, the people buried there may not have been elite craftspeople.

“These are fantastic pieces, and it’s wonderful to have them associated with the graves,” Jennings said. “The dead, on the other hand, don’t get to choose what goes into their tombs — their grave goods can reflect what they did in life, but they can also very much reflect other types of messages,” says one expert.

He did note, however, that the upper classes of ancient American societies, most notably the later Maya in Mesoamerica, were often also elite craftspeople. “The Maya elite spent a lot of time making elite goods, so it’s not out of the ordinary,” Jennings explained.

He also mentioned the inclusion of unfinished objects in the grave goods. “I believe that lends credence to the idea that some of these people were involved in the production of things.”

Many ornate artifacts in various stages of completion were discovered in the tomb, including this gold ear ornament inlaid with semiprecious stones.

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