Hundreds of Ancient Mummies Discovered at Ceremonial Site in Peru

Archaeologists in Peru made a monumental discovery when they found dozens of tombs with up to 40 mummies in each at a 1,200-year-old ceremonial site in Cotahuasi Valley. So far 171 mummies have been discovered across seven tombs, but it is thought that there may be thousands more.

The finding was made at Tenahaha, a 4 hectare site in the Cotahuasi Valley, which was established during the height of the Wari Empire (500 – 1000 AD). Very little archaeological research has been undertaken in the region due to its sheer remoteness. The Cotahuasi Canyon, sitting at 3535 meters (11,600 feet) above sea level, is the deepest canyon in the world – about twice as deep as the Grand Canyon. A number of prehistoric cultures occupied the canyon and its eastern plateau from the earliest Paleoindians to the Incas (11,000 BC – 1532 AD).

In recent years, archaeological research and analysis has begun piecing together the importance of Tenahaha during a period of growth and expansion from the first state-level society in the Andes and increased interregional interactions in the Cotahuasi Valley. The site is composed of a ceremonial/domestic component concentrated into a 2 hectare area, and a second component is composed of clusters of tombs located on the hillocks surrounding the ceremonial area.

According to Live Science, the mummies range in age from babies to adults and had been placed with their knees tucked up towards their shoulders with their arms folded across their chest. Like other burials discovered in Peru, the deceased were then tied with rope and wrapped in layers of textiles. The younger mummies, including babies and neonate fetuses, were buried in jars.

Examples of traditional ancient Peruvian burials. The knees are tucked towards the chest and the body is wrapped in textiles and rope. These mummies came from the Chauchilla ancient cemetery in the desert of Nazca Peru

Archaeologists found little evidence of violence at Tenahaha, such as cranial injuries and defensive fortifications, and even recovered intricately decorated pottery with depictions of happy and smiling faces. This is in stark contrast to the situation occuring in the rest of Peru at the time, roughly between 800 and 1000 AD.  Researchers have found evidence of significant violence during this period stemming from a period of tumultuous change, with rapidly expanding populations and increases in class differences.

“It’s a period of great change and one of the ways which humans around the world deal with that is through violence,” Jennings told Live Science. “What we are suggesting is that Tenahaha was placed in part to deal with those changes, to find a way outside of violence, to deal with periods of radical cultural change.”

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