Mass grave in ancient Peruvian city surprises archaeologists
By Carla Samon Ros
Lima, Nov 12 (EFE).- Peru’s Chan Chan Archaeological Zone, site of what was the largest earthen architecture city in the pre-Columbian Americas, recently offered up a new surprise for archaeologists: a mass grave with the skeletal remains of 25 mostly young female members of the Chimu civilization.
Investigators at the Chan Chan site, located in the northwestern Peruvian region of La Libertad and inscribed on Unesco’s World Heritage List in 1986, documented in October a multiple funerary context within the excavations of the Utzh An (big house in the Chimu language) citadel, or earthen-walled complex.
A total of 25 human bones corresponding to members of the Chimu civilization – which succeeded the Moche culture and flourished on the northern coast of what is now Peru between the 12th and 15th centuries until being conquered by the Incas under their ruler Pachacuti – were found piled up in just a 10-square-meter (107-square-foot) space.
Those skeletal remains dating to between 1100 and 1300 A.D. include those of at least two children, a man and several women. Peculiarly, most were not over the age of 30 and their remains appear in a seated position with their legs bent.
Jhon Juarez, the director of the Decentralized Culture Directorate of La Libertad who informed Efe of the find, said in an interview that the positioning of the bodies recreates “what these people did in their daily lives” in Chan Chan, a city regarded today as one of the most important vestiges of ancient Peru.
Those women apparently had been garment-makers, according to Juarez, who said tools associated with that activity such as needles, spindles and chalk were found alongside the remains, as well as dozens of different-sized ceramic shapes.
Initial information gathered by the team meticulously exploring the terrain indicates that small space, located in an esplanade of the citadel’s south wall, was a sort of collective burial ground even though no funerary architecture has been found.
Although human sacrifice was practiced by the Chimu, lead archaeologist Jorge Meneses said in a statement that the preliminary evaluation of the remains has led his team to rule that out as the cause of death.
The team’s initial hypothesis is that one group of skeletons had been at that burial site uninterruptedly while other remains that were bleached by the elements are believed to have been relocated there from somewhere else, Juarez said.
Most surprising to archaeologists about the find is that the ancient inhabitants of Chan Chan were thought to have buried their dead in more remote, designated areas rather in a location adjacent to the citadel walls.
The find was made in the context of an archaeological and conservation project dating back to 2017 at Utzh An.
That work has led to the discovery of the citadel’s north wall and a passageway whose inner portion was eerily lined with 19 black anthropomorphic wooden statues and whose outside walls were decorated with an impressive mud relief mural.
The Chan Chan archaeological site is located near Trujillo, La Libertad’s capital, which is located some 570 kilometers (350 miles) north of Lima.
At its apogee in the 15th century, that ancient city is believed to have been home to 60,000 people and covered an area of 1,400 hectares (5.4 square miles).
It was divided into nine rectangular citadels, or palaces, that contained administrative buildings and pyramid-shaped temples whose earthen walls, according to Unesco, were decorated with friezes representing abstract motifs and anthropomorphic and zoomorphic subjects. EFE