Archaeologists working in northern Peru have discovered an intact 2,700-year-old tomb belonging to the high-altitude Pacopampa people. The tomb contains as number of fascinating artifacts, along with the bodies of two individuals thought to be high priests.

The discovery was made by a combined team of Peruvian and Japanese researchers at a site in the Cajamarca region, some 500 miles (800 km) north of Lima. The surprisingly intact tomb is now being called the “Tomb of the Serpent-Jaguar Priests” on account of a ceramic vessel found at the site featuring a serpent with a jaguar’s head. The item was found next to one of the bodies.

The jaguar-faced serpent bottle (Credit: Wilfredo Sandoval/El Comercio)

The Pacopampa culture developed between 1,200 and 500 B.C., and were contemporaries of the Chavin culture. Incredibly, these ancient people lived at an altitude of 6,885 feet (2,100 meters) in the Andes.

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One of the bodies faced south, while the other pointed north. Each were placed in a fetal position and interred next to a large square surrounded by walls of sculpted stones, with two stairways providing access.

An elaborate necklace consisting of 25 oval-shaped gold beads engraved with figure-eights was found on one of the bodies. Multi-colored mineral deposits were found in front of one skull, consisting of cinnabar (red), malachite (green), hematite (dark brown), magnetite (shiny black), and calcite (white color). The archaeologists aren’t sure what these deliberately placed pigments were supposed to represent.

The gold necklace. At left you can see some of the brightly colored mineral deposits (Credit: Wilfredo Sandoval/El Comercio)

More about the discovery from Ancient Origins:

Another intriguing feature of the skeletons is the supposed elongated craniums. This feature of the skulls, combined with the grave goods present and their location at the site, provides a context that suggests to the researchers that the two bodies were elite members of the society. This is surprising for the team, who previously believed that there were no high-status persons in the Pacopampa culture. The new discovery also indicates to the researchers in the Proyecto Arqueologico Pacopampa that the site may have been a monumental ceremonial center at one time.

“Finding these remains in the same place where rituals and feasts were held, we assume they could have been priests in charge of ceremonies during this culture’s peak, between 800 and 500 B.C.,” noted project co-director Daniel Morales in the Latin American Herald Tribune.

[ Latin American Herald Tribune | Ancient Origins ]



Email the author at george@io9.com and follow him at @dvorsky. Top image by National Ethnology Museum/San Marcos University/Wilfredo Sandoval/El Comercio