Thu, May 18, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Archeologists discover tattooed woman's mummy in ruins of Peruvian pyramid


A well-preserved mummy partly covered with tattoos from the pre-Columbian Moche civilization has been discovered in Peru, a team of archeologists said on Tuesday.

Unusually accompanied by weapons of war and the skeleton of a child with a noose around its neck, the mummy, a woman approximately 30 years old when she died, was discovered last year by a group of Peruvian and US archaeologists at the ancient site of El Brujo on the coast of northern Peru, near Trujillo.

With well-preserved skin partly covered with tattoos, it was the best-preserved mummy ever found from the Moche civilization, which flourished in the region where it was found between the first and eighth centuries.

The mummy was dated by the archaeologists to about 450.

The woman is believed to have been a member of the elite and perhaps was a queen, according to the researchers.

Her body was wrapped in hundreds of meters of cotton cloth, and near where it was found lay the skeleton of a youth offered in sacrifice with a rope still around its neck.

Jewelry made of semi-precious gemstones and fine gold was also found at the site, as were other objects like gold sewing needles and raw cotton.

The archeologists said they were surprised to find buried with the mummy two ceremonial war clubs and 23 spear throwing implements, normally found only in the graves of Moche men.

"Perhaps she was a female warrior, or maybe the war clubs and spear throwers were symbols of power that were funeral gifts from men," said John Verano, a physical anthropologist from Tulane University in Mississippi.

The researchers, working under the El Brujo project supported by Peru's National Institute of Culture and the Wiese Foundation, found the mummy bundle near the apex of the crumbled pyramid Huaca Cao Viejo.

"I've seen many mummy bundles, but this one was huge, obviously symbolic of her status," Verano said in a statement.

The bundle was decorated with a large embroidered face, which has never been seen before in a Moche mummy, according to the researchers.

The archaeologists have not determined how the woman died, but they know that she had had at least one child.

Three other buried people accompanied the woman, including a sacrificed teenager. Scientists plan to unwrap those mummies and hope to extract DNA to see if they are related to each other.

Details of the discovery will be reported in next month's issue of National Geographic, which has helped fund some of the research.

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