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The researchers found the thousands of mummies before the antiquities robbers

19/04/2002
Archeology / At an excavation site north of the capital of Peru, thousands of mummified bodies from the Inca tribe were discovered

Photo: Reuters / "Neshi
A member of the excavation team and one of the mummies discovered in Peru

Archaeologists have uncovered thousands of mummies from the Inca tribe, buried in tombs under huts in a town in Peru. The discovery, which the researchers define as an "archaeological treasure", allows a rare glimpse into the lifestyles and culture of the Incas, on the eve of the invasion of the Spanish conquerors, in the middle of the 16th century.

The site, named Puruchuco Hauquerones, is located north of the capital, Lima. Many mummies were well preserved; Their hair, skin, eyes and hats decorated with feathers that were worn, remained unharmed. Many mummies were found buried wrapped in cloth, and sometimes several people - up to seven - were buried together. "In total, there may be up to about 10,000 tombs, containing about 15,000 mummies," said Guillermo Cook, from the Peruvian Institute of Culture and head of the team of researchers. "This is a wonderful cross-section of the Incas in a very short period of time."
The discovery was reported at a press conference yesterday
In Washington, at the offices of "National Geographic", which financed the excavations.
According to Cook, the dead were buried for 75 years, and apparently, the burial ended in the fourth decade of the 16th century - five years after the Spanish founded the settlement that today became Lima, Cook said. He pointed out that people from "no more than two generations", women, men and children from all social classes, who died as a result of a large variety of factors, including "human sacrifices, injuries, malnutrition, anemia and probably tuberculosis" are buried in Poruchoko.

Cook noted that many Inca sites are known to researchers, but most of the time, the researchers arrived at these sites after antiquities looted them. This time, between 50 and 60 artefacts were discovered along with the mummies, including decorated urns, which may have been part of the burial ceremony.

"What we found there is what is called in sociology the perfect sample - we have an adequate representation of every sector or age in the population. This will give us a unique opportunity to examine the Inca community, to study their lives, their state of health and their culture," he added. So far, the team has opened only three of the approximately 345 groups of mummies found at the site, but according to the team, it could be decades before the restoration work is complete.

However, Cook noted that following the initial research, the team drew new conclusions about the Incas, that the empire they established stretched between Ecuador in the north and Chile in the south, and included the Andes range in this area. The period of their rule began in approximately 1200, and lasted until the middle of the 16th century, when in bloody battles the Spanish conquerors took control of their lands.

According to Cook, until now most archaeologists have treated the Inca as a ruling group that imposed an imperial "superstructure" on the local populations. However, the objects discovered in Poruchoco testify to the mixing of different traditions. Cook noted that the Incas merged their culture with the local styles, and may even have been in the midst of a unique synthesis process, when they were interrupted by the Spanish conquerors.

In addition, he said, such a large number of mummies "is the real key to the study of the health of the Inca people." Cook added that the dead look as if they were "naturally embalmed" and wrapped in some fabric, perhaps coarse cotton. According to him, "They were buried vertically, in pits filled with sand, gravel and ceramic fragments - a mixture whose purpose was to absorb the moisture from the bodies."

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