The discovery of 1000 year old mummies made at Pachacamac, one of the largest Prehispanic sites in South America, located on the Pacific Coast about 18 miles from Lima, was reported by Belgium’s Universite libre de Bruxelles.
An intact tomb was excavated in front of the 'Temple of Pachacamac' and had miraculously survived the destruction of the colonial period. The name Pachacamac, which can be variously translated as ‘He who Animated the World’ or ‘He who Created Land and Time' was an important religious, ceremonial, political and economic center, consecrated to the god Pacha Camac.
Later period burials were found dispersed in order to conceal an enormous burial chamber 65-feet long, dated to 1,000 years ago, was intact, researchers said.
The oval tomb was covered with a roof of reeds supported by carved and shaped tree trunks.
A dozen newborns and infants were distributed around the perimeter, while the main chamber was separated into two sections by a wall of mud bricks that served as a base for yet more burials, archaeologists said.
It contained more than 80 skeletons and mummies, many of them were infants representing both sexes and often accompanied by offerings including copper and gold artifacts, masks and ceramic vessels.
"The ratio adult/children is unusually elevated at this burial," archaeologist Peter Eeckhout, who has been carrying out fieldwork at the site for the past 20 years.
"We have, at this stage, two hypotheses: human sacrifice or stocking of babies dead from natural causes, kept until their disposal in the tomb because of its special character," Eeckhout said.
Several individuals suffered mortal injuries, physical trauma or serious illness.
"One juvenile was killed by a blow on the skull. All over the cemetery we have lots of lethal disease traces, such as cancer and syphillis," Eeckhout said.
Research suggests many of those buried there might have traveled to the temple in search of a cure for several serious diseases. It is not yet clear whether the infants died naturally or were sacrificed, Eeckhout told
Eeckhout and colleagues are confident that a dating of the skeletons and mummies, as well as bio-archaeological analysis, will answer the numerous questions that have arisen with the discovery.
"The tomb provides a wonderfully rich sample that will allow us to study possible kin ties, local or foreign origin of the deceased, health state, ritual and funerary customs," Eeckhout said.
"It will enlighten considerably our current knowledge on the material culture of the earliest phase of the Ychsma, the cultural group that lived in the Lima area before the Inca conquest," he said.
The impressive ruins make Pachacamac a candidate for inclusion on the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites.