Thousands of Inca Mummies Discovered Buried Beneath
Shantytown in Peru
The Associated Press
April 17, 2002
WASHINGTON â Thousands of ancient Inca mummies, some bundled
together in small groups with their possessions, have been
discovered beneath a shantytown near Lima, Peru.
Archaeologists say the find may solve some of the mysteries
surrounding the Inca civilization.
So far, researchers have uncovered the remains of 2,200
individuals. More are thought to remain buried.
"The mummies are starting to 'chat' with us, telling some
amazing stories," lead archaeologist Guillermo Cock said in
One of the bundles included some 300 pounds of raw cotton,
the body of an Inca noble and a baby, as well as 70 other
items, including food, pottery, animal skins and corn to
make a fermented drink known as chicha.
"Mummy bundles are like time capsules from the Inca," said
Johan Reinhard, explorer-in-residence at the National
Geographic Society. "The huge number of mummies from one
period of time provides an unparalleled opportunity for new
information about the Incas."
The burials are thought to have occurred between 1480 and
1535, with the site serving as a central cemetery for the
Inca, who ruled a powerful South American empire before
being conquered by the Spanish.
More than 50,000 artifacts have been retrieved, with many of
the individuals apparently elite members of Inca society
still wearing the headdress feathers that marked their rank.
Cock said the quantity of burials represents an
unprecedented opportunity to solve some of the mysteries of
the Inca. The mummies represent a wide spectrum of Inca
life, from infants to the elderly and from the very poor to
the very rich.
Previous information on the Inca culture has come from
scatterings of burials, most of only a few individuals, not
enough to allow many firm conclusions about Inca ways.
Cock and his team have worked for three years, trying to
stay ahead of development in the area known to
archaeologists as Puruchuco-Huaquerones. It is called Tupac
Amaru by the 1,240 families living there. People began to
settle there in 1989 after fleeing guerrilla activity in the
Development of the shantytown is releasing thousands of
gallons a day of liquids, including sewage, into the
streets, where it can seep into the burials below, damaging
mummies that have been well-preserved for nearly 500 years.
According to National Geographic, archaeologists transformed
the town into a dig, turning the narrow streets into
trenches. Bridges had to be built for people to cross the
streets in front of their makeshift homes. Many of them went
to work on the project.
A few mummy bundles were first discovered at Puruchuco in
1956, but the site was not explored. In 1985 some 70 test
pits were excavated and 24 burials reported. Cock and his
team of up to 18 specialists, mostly Peruvians, began work
there in 1999, supported by National Geographic.
At Cock's lab in Lima, physical anthropologists from the
United States and Canada are examining bones and other
remains to try to learn more about these people, their
health, what kind of work they did and how they died.
While there are thought to be hundreds of bodies remaining,
Cock has no immediate plans for more digs in Puruchuco, as
houses cover most of the untapped areas.