A peculiar tomb has been unearthed in Peru.
Inside the burial chamber, the 3,000-year-old remains of an elite spiritual leader, dubbed the “Prince of Pacopampa,” were found face down with legs crossed. The lead researcher for the project said that more research is needed to understand the significance of the “Prince of Pacopampa” in ancient Mesoamerica. However, it may be based on preserving his authority in the afterlife ,.
However, the site still holds more mysteries. The priestly remains, along with artifacts made from human bones and stamps bearing symbols, may have come from a religion that honoured predatory animals.
“Burials lying on the face are often found in the Andes,” the Pacopampa Archaeological Project leader Yuji Seki told Insider. Seki, also an emeritus professor at the National Museum of Ethnology focusing on ancient power formation in the South American mountain range, said the reasoning for body’s position “may have been a fear of someone with powerful abilities, but we don’t know for sure.”
At other archaeological digs, the practice of burying remains in a face-down position has been attributed by researchers as a superstitious burial ritual to prevent the recently deceased from returning from the dead, as in the case of a medieval girl found in England.
Seki added that the crossed legs are believed to be an intentional gesture of religious significance, as similar stone carvings from the era (3,000 – 50 BCE) depict religious figures in cross-legged poses.
The Priest of Pacopampa skeleton was found alone in a massive gravesite in part of a large-scale archaeological project carried out since 2005 under an academic agreement between the National Museum of Ethnology in Japan and Peru’s National University of San Marcos to determine when and why intrasocietal differences emerged in ancient Andean civilizations.
“Judging from the extravagant use of space, with only one burial for a large earthen pit, it can be inferred that he was an important person,” Seki told Insider. The tomb is unusual in that the dead are buried in the east half and burial offerings in west. After placing the deceased the tomb was filled with soil containing large amounts of carbonized material and ashes, as well as many archaeological artifacts.”
Among the artifacts buried with the Prince of Pacopampa, and found intentionally placed upside down like the body was, were a bowl embellished with carved lines and a decorated stamp, which would have been dipped in paint and used to adorn the bodies of people in elite social standing with ritualistic symbols.
“The stamp represents the palms of the hands,” Seki said, adding that two additional stamps, representing a feline face and a human frontal face with closed eyes, were also found.
He added: “This is the first example of a tomb with three stamps in the Andean region. There are no traces of its use, so it is possible that they were a tool to symbolize the authority of this person. Also, like many elite tombs, it was covered with the red pigment of cinnabar, mainly on the face.”
In addition to the stamps and pieces of pottery, an artifact believed to be made of human bone was discovered nearby the body.
Initially thought to be a tupu, a traditional Andean pin that would adorn women’s blankets, Seki said two small bowls with gently curved sides were later excavated in the immediate vicinity, and it is possible that the bone artifact was used for scooping or stirring items contained in those containers.
“Judging from the length of the bones, it is possible that human bones were used, and we are currently analyzing the material,” Seki said. “Judging from the size of the tomb, as well as the presence of the burial offerings and cinnabar, we believe that it is extremely likely that he was a religious leader.”
While it is too soon to draw definitive conclusions about the burial rites of the time, Seki said, tombs in the area previously uncovered by the Pacopampa Archaeological Project team have shown evidence of “ritual violence.”
From 2005 to 2015, Seki’s team unearthed the remains of 104 people, including 66 adults and 38 children, which date back to periods known as the Middle (1200-800 BCE) and Late (800-500 BCE) Formative Periods.
Seven adult skeletons found on the same platform at the site showed trauma in the elbows, the hands, the legs, and the head. This was reported by Insider. The majority of injuries were found on the skull, and they showed signs of healing. This suggests that the individuals were still alive, even though the injury was severe.
These sorts of injuries “suggest intention and repeated blows to have been the cause, rather than accidents,” Seki and his colleagues wrote in a research paper published in 2017 about the findings.
“The severe but healed trauma concentrated on the cranium, and without defensive wounds that were found in several cases at Pacopampa appears to have been a result of fierce forces applied under controlled conditions,” the research determined.
Leaders of the ancient civilization had an affinity for “the cult of predatory animals.” They frequently portrayed humans with fierce animal characteristics as representations of the natural power within, according to Seki’s research team.
While Seki and the Pacopampa Archaeological Project will continue to dig for more information, so far, they have concluded that “these anthropomorphized creatures emphasized the visible role of the high-ranking members of the cult and helped justified the elite’s monopoly over life, death, and socioeconomic control through ritual.”