January 28, 2010—A thousand-year-old temple complex (including a tomb with human sacrifice victims, shown in a digital illustration) has been found under the windswept dunes of northwestern Peru, archaeologists say.
The discovery of the complex, excavated near the city of Chiclayo (map) between 2006 and late 2009, has injected a dose of reality into the legend of Naylamp, the god who supposedly founded the pre-Inca Lambayeque civilization in the eighth century A.D., following the collapse of the Moche civilization.
That's because evidence at the Chotuna-Chornancap archaeological site indicates the temple complex may have belonged to people claiming to have descended from Naylamp—suggesting for the first time that these supposed descendants existed in the flesh.
The sophisticated Lambayeque culture, also known as the Sicán, were best known as skilled irrigation engineers until being conquered in A.D. 1375 by the Chimú, a civilization also based along Peru's arid northern coast.
Archaeologists have been "trying to decode the legend's mystery" for a century, said dig leader Carlos Wester La Torre, director of the Brüning National Archaeological Museum in Lambayeque. "The goal was to understand the possible relations between the oral legend and archaeological evidence."
Within the newfound temple complex is a pyramid-shaped tomb, called Huaca Norte, which was filled with the skeletons of 33 women.
(Related: "Mummy of Tattooed Woman Discovered in Peru Pyramid.")
Two skeletons still have their original hair and some (top row) are mummified. All of them show cut marks, meaning they were likely tortured as part of human-sacrifice rituals.
"Women are traditionally associated with fertility," La Torre said. "They are offered in religious ceremonies in return for more fertility [and other beneficial events]—like rain, for instance."
—Sabrina Valle in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil