The find, dating to between the 4th-7th century CE, indicates that the northern part of the Atacama Desert had been inhabited by a farming community before the expansion of the Tiwanaku civilisation into the region.
The team from the Institute of Archaeology has carried out research in the area since 2008 as part of the Tambo Project along with researchers from Peru and Colombia.
The cemetery was discovered in the Tambo river delta, in the northern part of the Atacama Desert. “These graves had been dug in the sand without any stone structures, and for this reason they were so difficult to locate that they have not fallen prey to robbers” – said Prof. Józef Szykulski, leader of the research project.
Desert conditions also preserved the contents of the graves. “These burials are of a virtually unknown people, who inhabited the area before the expansion of the Tiwanaku civilisation. Items found in individual graves indicate that the people already had a clear social division” – said Prof. Szykulski.
Inside the tombs, the archaeologists found many artefacts including headgear made of felted lama wool, which could have functioned as a type of helmet. Some of the bodies were wrapped in mats, others in cotton burial shrouds, and others in nets.
“Inside some of the graves we have found bows and quivers with arrows tipped with obsidian heads. This is a very interesting find, because bows are a rarity in Peru” – said the archaeologist. Another interesting find is the skeleton of a young llama, which proves that the animal had been brought to the Tambo Delta earlier than thought.
A stratified culture
In some of the male graves, archaeologists found maces with stone or copper finials. “These objects along with the bows were symbols of power, which suggests that the culture had a stratified society with elites who took their power into the afterlife” – said Prof. Szykulski.
Grave goods also included decorated weaving tools and many jewellery items, including objects made of copper and tumbaga (an alloy of gold and copper). Another interesting discovery are reed withes that were attached to the ears of the dead, and which protruded above the surface of the graves. Scientists suspect that they served as ritual “communication” tools between the dead and the living members of the community.
Prof. Szykulski announced that Polish archaeologists also discovered the tombs of Tiwanaku civilisation in the Tambo River delta, dating back to the 7th-10th century CE. “These stone tombs contain ceramic vessels, tools and weapons. This find is sensational, it was previously thought that in this period the Tiwanaku civilisation had not reached this area“- said the scientist.
Archaeological work carried out in Peru by the Institute of Archaeology, University of Wrocław, is a part of an interdisciplinary research project aimed to analyse the settlement processes in the pre-Columbian era in the river valleys of southern Peru.
The study area covers the Tambo river basin which spans more then 20,000 square kilometres on the south-east boundary of Arequipa Province and the north-western part of the Mariscal Nieto and Sánchez Cerro Provinces, and will continue for several more years.
View the project gallery here: http://projekt-tambo.archeo.uni.wroc.pl/gb/index.php?sw=4
Past Horizons. 2014. “Unknown culture discovered in Peru”. Past Horizons. Posted: July 4, 2014. Available online: http://www.pasthorizonspr.com/index.php/archives/07/2014/unknown-culture-discovered-in-peru