When most people think of Peru and archaeology, one site looms in their minds: the Incas’ glorious Machu Picchu. Peru, though, has ruined cities of many other pre-Columbian cultures that rival Inca remains. Two areas that local archaeologists consider to be equally – if not more – important than the Sacred Valley are the North Coast, between Trujillo and Chiclayo, and the Chachapoyas regions where every year, startling new finds are unearthed.
The news has been chock-full of discoveries and recoveries. Yale University has finally returned thousands of artifacts Hiram Bingham had taken from Machu Picchu. A new museum is being built in the Sacred Valley to house those treasures. Remember, travelers: During the month of February, the famous Inca Trail is closed for maintenance, but the archaeological site does remain open.
Journeyers heading to Arequipa may be disappointed to discover that the mummy Juanita (also known as La Dama de Ampato) is not on display at the Santuarios Andinos de Arequipa museum. She is receiving special treatments to preserve her.
The big news, though, is coming from the North Coast region. Long before the Inca rose from the depths of Lake Titicaca, this area was home to the great Mochica, Moche and Chimú empires. Today, the massive adobe cities’ pyramids are yielding astounding archaeological finds. Here are six of the most exciting discoveries and recoveries that are happening there:
- Just in time for National Popcorn Day, the oldest evidence of that delicious treat has been found at Huaca Prieta in northern Peru. The 6,700-year-old remains show that a variety of corn (including that for popcorn) was being used 2,000 years earlier than previously thought.
- Another great discovery is at Huaca de la Luna, near Trujillo. In continuing excavations there, archaeologists have uncovered a semi-circular altar upon which human sacrifices were done. Also discovered are stunning wall paintings. Visitors to this site now have an aerial walkway from which to enjoy the huaca’s many murals and a new museum.
- In 2006, at El Brujo, another site near Trujillo, archaeologists found a most fascinating woman: la Señora de Cau, also known as the Tattooed Woman. Not only was she buried with incredible treasures, but her body was also richly adorned with art. Various pieces of this find are displayed at the Museo del Sitio Cau at the El Brujo archaeological complex.
- Near Chiclayo, a tomb richer than that of the Señor of Sipán has been uncovered in the Chotuna-Chornancap archaeological complex, nine kilometer (5.5 miles) south of Lambayeque. The Sacerdote de Chornancap (Priest of Chornancap) is causing quite a stir for the nine sets of ear piercings he has and his treasures. After study and restoration work are completed in six to eight months, the artifacts will be exhibited in the Museo Brüning, and later at Lima’s Museo Nacional.
- Speaking of the Lambayeque’s archaeological riches: The priceless pendant, Cabeza de Mono Dorada, has been repatriated to Peru. This beautiful gold broche, inlaid with sodalite and other stones, was looted from a tomb of the La Mina archaeological site in Jetuetepeque in the 1980s. Experts have not yet decided where the public may view it.
- Near Cajamarca, work is continuing on Poro Poro de Udima. The site was devoted to a water-centered cult. Once the rains let up in the region, Poro Poro de Udima will be open to the public through April.
Photos of all the new finds can be viewed at Arqueología del Perú’s website, which is an excellent source for keeping up with the country’s latest archaeological discoveries.