The Prehispanic Burials of Pachacamac

Those of us who grew up watching and reading The Adventures of Tintin remember that in  The Seven Crystal Balls Professor Calculus was abducted by the Pachacamac, and in the following book, Prisoners of the Sun, it was the name of the Sun God worshiped by the Incan tribe. In reality, Pachacamac is an archaeological site in located southeast of Lima, Peru. There have been numerous buildings, temples, pyramids and cemeteries recovered that date from the Early Intermediate period (200 CE) to before the Incan conquest (1450 CE). Excavations at the site of Pachacamac have been undertaken for over a century, beginning with Uhle’s work in the late 19th century. Since the late 1990’s, the Ychsma Project team has undertook recording and excavation of a series of Inca storage facilities dating to the 15th-16th centuries CE.  c. AD). Beginning in 2004, an older cemetery was detected and exploratory work was started in this area. It was underneath these burials that a massive chamber tomb was uncovered.

Excavation at Pachacamac, via ScienceDaily

Work being done in this area by archaeologists from the Université libre de Bruxelles and the University of London has revealed a 20 meter long burial chamber  that survived the pillaging of Incan and Spanish conquest. The chamber is oval, and was created by removing large amounts of earth and covering the burials with a reed roof supported by tree trunks. The main chamber of the tomb is separated into two sections, divided by a wall of mud bricks. Along the perimeter of the chamber were at least a dozen newborns and infants who were distributed with their heads oriented towards the tomb. They recovered more than 70 burials, including both skeleton and mummified remains, many with their wrappings intact. All burials were placed in the fetal position, and are representative of both sexes and a range of ages. Many were accompanied by grave goods, including ceramic vessels, animal remains, copper and gold masks.

The remains and artifacts found in this tomb are currently under investigation by the archaeologists and physical anthopologists in order to determine age, sex, genetic relationships, diseases, trauma, and the relationship with the artifacts. Analysis of the artifacts have dated the site to 1000 CE, although this is based on style rather than radiocarbon dating. Preliminary investigations have revealed that there are a range of ages and both sexes represented, and in addition to this there are a number of morphological traits noted among the remains that may suggest a close genetic relationship among the remains. Owens, the head of the physical anthropology team working at the site, stated that “[skeletal] analysis is still in its infancy, but we already have a fairly good idea about what the people who lived here were like. We know that most of them died before they even reached adulthood, and that those who did usually did not live past 40 years of age. They were of compact build, with a varied diet, and seem to have enjoyed a generally healthy lifestyle. However, there was also evidence of sickness – such as syphilis, arthritis and rickets – as well as indications that some individuals had their skulls deformed in childhood, died at the hands of their fellows, or were even buried alive…”

Given the deep history of analysis at the site and the recent finds, it will be interesting to see how this discovery changes or supports interpretations. I am actually a little confused about the general scope of the project (if you try looking it up and doing research there are at least two teams doing work and it is difficult to discern overlap and correlation between them. If you do have any academic citations or information about this specific project let me know!). Hopefully we will get a larger publication regarding the mortuary finds and how this fits into the Prehispanic history of Peru.

Works Cited

The Ychsma Project 2012.

Science Daily 2012. Archaeology: Spectacular Tomb Containing More Than 80 Individuals Discovered in Peru.

One response to “The Prehispanic Burials of Pachacamac

  1. Hi Katy, Thanks for a most interesting post.I shall be interested in the final conclusion. I am a pottery Analyst but find bones and skulls and their interpretation fascinating.

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