At El Castillo de Huarmey, Peru, a team of Peruvian and Polish archaeologists excavated an intact royal tomb in 2013.

An intact tomb revealed royal secrets of an ancient people in Peru

Centuries before the Inca rose to power, the Wari ruled the coastal highlands of Peru. Many of their sites had been looted over the centuries. but a rare intact tomb gave rich insights into this mysterious civilization.

At El Castillo de Huarmey, Peru, a team of Peruvian and Polish archaeologists excavated an intact royal tomb in 2013. Holding the body of a queen, the grave at El Castillo de Huarmey revealed the rich culture of the Wari people.
Newscom/Alamy/ACI

More than a thousand years ago in what is now Peru, the site of El Castillo de Huarmey was among the land’s most sacred places; University of Warsaw archaeologist Miłosz Giersz was sure of it. Plenty of people had warned Giersz that excavating there would be difficult and almost certainly a waste of time and money. Looters had already been tunneling into the massive hill, searching for ancient tombs and treasure. Located on the coast, a four-hour drive north of Lima, what was once a holy place was pitted with holes, looking more like a moonscape littered with ancient human bones, and strewn with modern trash.

Looking past the debris, Giersz was entranced by the bits of textiles and broken pottery he saw dotting the slopes. They came from Peru’s little-known Wari civilization, whose heartland lay far to the south. In 2010 Giersz and a small research team began investigating by imaging what lay underground with a magnetometer and taking aerial photos from a camera sailing above on a kite. The results revealed something that generations of grave robbers had missed: the faint outlines of buried walls running along a rocky southern spur.

(Did hallucinogenic booze fuel politics in ancient Peru?)

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