World news in brief: Wari burials in Peru, Maya cacao consumption, and ancient Egyptian cheese

A round-up of some of the latest archaeological news from around the globe.

Evidence of elite Wari burials

Since 2010, a team of researchers from the University of Warsaw have been excavating the site of Castillo de Huarmey, a royal necropolis of the Wari civilisation, who lived in northern Peru c.AD 500-1000. Most recently, archaeologists have uncovered a new section of the site, which they have called ‘The Gallery of the Elite Craftsmen’. It contained the remains of four adults (two men and two women) and three adolescents.

Notably, unlike other areas of the necropolis, this section does not appear to have been looted by treasure hunters, so the full array of grave goods could be appreciated. These included a number of gold and silver artefacts, among them ear ornaments and headdress decorations, along with objects related to craft activities such as tools, pieces of textile, woodworking evidence, and painted leather. This has led the archaeologists to suggest that this burial chamber was used to inter elite craftspeople.

IMAGE: Miłosz Giersz

Maya cacao consumption

New analysis of Maya ceramics has challenged the assumption that cacao, from which chocolate is made, was strictly controlled by the elite members of Maya society.

The project, carried out by researchers from the University of California, Santa Barbara, assessed the contents of a variety of pottery sherds from El Pilar, an important Maya centre in the Late Classic period (AD 600-900), located on the border of modern Belize and Guatemala. Using laser mass spectrometry, they were able to identify the biomarker theophylline, which signifies the presence of cacao, in 56% of the sherds, and not just in the drinking vessels but also in jars, mixing bowls, and serving plates. As these sherds were recovered from many different contexts, from residential units to civic centres, this suggests that cacao consumption was more widespread in Maya culture than previously assumed.

Ancient Egyptian cheese

The remains of 2,600-year-old cheese have been discovered during excavations at the ancient Egyptian necropolis of Saqqara. The blocks of white cheese were found in several pottery vessels inscribed with Demotic script, which dates to the 26th or 27th dynasty (668-525 BC). It is probable that this was a type of cheese called haram by the ancient Egyptians, a squeaky cheese made from a mixture of goat’s and sheep’s milk, which today is known as halloumi.

This is not the first cheese to be found at the site. Back in 2018, archaeologists discovered what may be the world’s oldest solid cheese, dating to more than 3,200 years ago, in another tomb.