A Peruvian tomb that evaded looters for 1,500 years has yielded the richest archaeological find in the Western Hemisphere - a trove of gold and jewels that rivals the treasures of ancient Greece, it was announced Tuesday.
A 2-foot-wide, solid gold headdress, a warrior's golden backflap weighing almost 2 pounds and a string of gold bells showing a god lopping off human heads are just a few of the riches found in the grave of a warrior-priest of the Moche culture."The real richness is in information it contains. But in material terms, just in terms of gold objects and jewelry, this tomb contains the greatest quantity as well as the quality of gold jewelry that we've ever seen come from an archaeologically excavated tomb in the Americas," said Christopher Donnan, an anthropology professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, said.
Donnan was part of the team, funded by the National Geographic Society under the direction of the Peruvian government, that excavated the lavish burial mound near Sipan on the north coast of Peru.
Archaeologists were alerted to the tomb's existence after an adjoining grave was looted and a large quantity of finely wrought gold jewelry flooded the black market for stolen, ancient treasures.
In April 1987, Walter Alva, director of the Bruning Archaeological Museum in Lambayeque, Peru, sent a team of archaeologists to the looted tomb to salvage what artifacts the robbers had left behind and to clean up the site.
A few months into the efforts, the archaeologists noticed a depression that appeared to have been filled in with earth in ancient times and ordered that spot excavated.
That order led to a dramatic discovery - a mausoleum containing the body of a richly clad Moche lord, as well as those of two other men, two women and a dog believed to have been part of the royal entourage.
The Moche preceded the Inca culture by hundreds of years, dominating the northern coast of Peru from about A.D. 100-800 and producing superb jewelry from locally mined gold and from shells and stone imported from as far north as Ecuador and as far south as Chile.