Elite Wari burials uncovered in northern Peru

Excavations have uncovered a significant section of the site’s necropolis, which the archaeologists are calling ‘The Gallery of the Elite Craftsmen’.

Archaeologists working at the Wari royal necropolis of Castillo de Huarmey have made new discoveries that further demonstrate the site’s importance.

Excavations at Castillo de Huarmey have uncovered a new section of the Wari royal necropolis.

Since 2010, a team of researchers from the University of Warsaw, led by Miłosz Giersz and Patrycja Prządka-Giersz, have been working at the archaeological complex in northern Peru, which was built by the Wari civilisation who lived in the region c.AD 500-1000. It was previously believed that the site, which included areas for public, domestic, and ritual activities, had been looted completely by treasure hunters, but in 2013 the archaeologists discovered an intact 1,200-year-old tomb containing the remains of 58 female members of the Wari elite, who had been buried with six human sacrifices, two tomb guards (whose feet had been amputated to prevent them leaving their eternal watch), and over 1,300 grave goods and offerings of gold, silver, bronze, precious stones, and more (see CWA 60).

The grave goods included elite objects like this gold ear ornament inlaid with semi-precious stones (above) and this gold headdress decoration (below), as well as the artefacts thought to reflect the individuals’ connections to craft production.

Now, excavations have uncovered another significant section of the site’s necropolis, which the archaeologists are calling ‘The Gallery of the Elite Craftsmen’. Bioarchaeological analysis has revealed that these newly discovered tombs contained the remains of four adult individuals (two male and two female) and three adolescents. Buried alongside them were a number of gold and silver artefacts, including ear ornaments and headdress decorations, as well as other offerings, such as calabash pots containing food and drink, all indicating that these individuals were wealthy members of the Wari elite. However, their grave goods also included a number of tools, such as axes, knives, and saws; raw materials for basketry; pieces of textiles, woodworking, and painted leather in different stages of production; and other objects decorated with iconographic representations that have led researchers to conclude that the seven individuals were highly skilled craftspeople and artists, buried with these objects as a testimony to their professions in life.

The Wari civilisation is known to have had a rich tradition of art and craftwork, including painted pottery, jewellery, and colourful textiles. The researchers believe that – as was the case in other ancient American cultures such as the later Maya in Mesoamerica – the upper classes of Wari society were often also elite craftspeople, and that this is likely true of all of the elite burials discovered at Castillo de Huarmey to date, including the tomb found ten years ago. Miłosz Giersz said, ‘This important discovery confirms our theories from previous field seasons: both men and women buried in the royal necropolis in Castillo de Huarmey were directly connected with the highest level of craft production and made the finest luxury goods of their era.’

The finds from the Gallery of the Elite Craftsmen also reinforce the view that, in addition to being a necropolis for the highest elites and a place of ancestor worship, Castillo de Huarmey was an important centre of power, administration, and craft production for the Wari Empire.

Information about the research is published on the Archeowiesci blog.

Images: Miłosz Giersz