New discoveries at the royal necropolis in Castillo de Huarmey

New discoveries in Castillo de Huarmey confirm the previous assumptions of Polish archaeologists about the importance of the royal tomb in Castillo de Huarmey, Peru. The site studied by scientists from the University of Warsaw served as the final resting place for elite members of the Wari Empire. The most eminent craftsmen and artists serving at the royal court of Wari were also among the few of those who could be buried at the royal necropolis in Castillo de Huarmey.

The Gallery of Elite Craftsmen found in 2022 was located just beneath royal mausoleum of Castillo de Huarmey, discovered 10 years before.
© M. Giersz, under CC BY-SA 4.0 licence

10 years since the discovery of the royal tomb in Castillo de Huarmey

The archaeological site Castillo de Huarmey is located in the Ancash region on the northern coast of Peru, 1km from the town of Huarmey in a necropolis that covers an area of 45ha. This enormous and important complex functioned over 1300 years ago and was constructed and used by the Wari Empire, one of the most important pre-Incan states in Peru. Polish scientists from the University of Warsaw have been studying this important archaeological site since 2010.

Golden ear ornament with inlays of semi-precious stones
© M. Giersz, under CC BY-SA 4.0 licence

10 years ago a research team led by Miłosz Giersz and Patrycja Prządka-Giersz from the University of Warsaw discovered the first tomb belonging to the highest female elite of the Wari Empire. Additionaly, the queen was not buried alone. Next to her, fifty seven other Wari nobles, six human sacrifices, and two tomb guards were buried. The latter individuals had their feet amputated, so they could not leave their eternal watch. In addition to that, over 1300 artifacts made of gold, silver, bronze, precious gems, wood, bone, and shells were deposited as grave goods and offerings. The history of the Wari Empire is still being rewritten in Castillo de Huarmey.

Mummy of one of the elite artisans discovered in the gallery
© M. Giersz, under CC BY-SA 4.0 licence

Recent discoveries  at the royal necropolis in Castillo de Huarmey

In February 2022, Miłosz Giersz and Patrycja Prządka-Giersz discovered another important mortuary gallery with the remains of seven royal craftsmen. Four of them were adult individuals, two male and two female, while the remaining three’s age was assessed as adolescent. The bioarchaeological analysis was conducted by Wiesław Więckowski from the Faculty of Archaeology of the University of Warsaw, a member of Giersz’s research team. The craftsmen were buried along with their grave goods. Next to their mortal remains, their tools of trade and materials were buried among which were axe, knives, saw, and raw materials for basketry. In addition to these, textiles, wooden artifacts, painted leather in different stages of production, and products decorated with iconographic representations had been deposited as a testimony to their past profession. These findings confirm that Castillo de Huarmey served not only as an elite tomb, but also as a space of ancestral veneration, an important administrative center of the Wari Empire, and as a place of production of the finest handicrafts in the domain. 

A gold headdress decoration found in one of the graves in the Gallery of Elite Craftsmen
© M. Giersz, under CC BY-SA 4.0 licence

Based on our most recent findings, we could call this part of the royal necropolis “The Gallery of Elite Craftsmen”. For the first time, we have found the burials of male Wari elite, who were also fine craftsmen and artists. The golden and silver artifacts deposited with them support this assumption. 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 – Giersz explains to us

Professor Miłosz Giersz, head of archaeological research in Castillo de Huarmey, during the exploration of one of the rich pre-Hispanic tombs in the Gallery of Elite Craftsmen
© P. Prządka-Giersz, under CC BY-SA 4.0 licence

All of these new discoveries confirm the important role of Castillo de Huarmey in the Wari Empire and reinforce the view that it functioned as the most important power, administrative and craft centre and a necropolis of the highest elites of the empire, being the most important complex during the Wari period in the Peruvian coast. In addition, Giersz comments that this impressive find occurred in the midst of an uncertain scenario, since for many years Castillo de Huarmey had been considered to be looted in its entirety by treasure hunters.

I hope our works will change the approach of many archaeologists around the world, who would resign before starting their projects in archaeological sites, which seem to be looted at the first glance. With a careful systematic approach and a bit of patience: he who seeks shall find! – says Giersz

 

Watch the video straight from excavations!

Excavations in the Castillo de Huarmey are funded by National Science Center grant OPUS [2018/31/B/HS3/01655] “Sex, Space and Time in the Pre-Columbian Temple of the Dead”, as well as by private sponsors. 

 This article can be re-printed with photographs free of charge provided that the source is published.

 

Miłosz Giersz – Polish archaeologist, Chair of the Department of the Archaeology of the Americas, Faculty of Archaeology, University of Warsaw. Since 2002 he has co-directed two consecutive Polish-Peruvian archaeological projects in the northwestern Peru: the Valle de Culebras Archaeological Project, and the Castillo de Huarmey Archaeological Project. During the latter, he led the team that excavated a pre-Columbian royal mausoleum at Castillo de Huarmey with the first unlooted royal tomb of the queens of Wari, an ancient civilization of South America predating the Inca empire (ca. 600 – 1050 AD). He has been awarded with the “Zostańcie z nami!” [Stay with us!] scholarship for outstanding young researchers, founded by the biggest Polish weekly magazine Polityka (VIII Edition, 2007), a TRAVELER 2013 National Geographic Award for the most important Polish scientific achievement of the year (2013), and the Knight’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland (2015) and the Commander’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Peru (2018), for the achievements in the field of science and outstanding contributions in the cooperation between the Republic of Poland and the Republic of Peru. He acts as the President of Polish Society for Latin American Studies. He is also the author of many books and articles on archaeology and art of the pre-Hispanic Latin American cultures. He also organised (as curator or co-organizer) diverse museum and poster exhibitions in Poland and abroad, including  the exhibition Castillo de Huarmey. El Mausoleo Imperial Wari organised at the Museo de Arte (Museum of Art) in Lima in 2014, and Skarby Peru. Królewski grobowiec w Castillo de Huarmey at the State Ethnographic Museum in Warsaw.

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Patrycja Przadka-Giersz – A graduate of the Faculty of History at the University of Warsaw, currently an assistant professor at the Faculty of “Artes Liberales”. She specializes in archeology, ethnohistory, gender studies and cultural anthropology of the Central Andes area, with particular emphasis on issues related to the European conquest, clash of cultures and the survival of Indian traditions during the colonial period.  Since 2000, as the head and co-director of a series of archaeological, iconographic, anthropological and ethnohistorical research (queries in the most important colonial archives in Peru) in South America (projects financed by the State Committee for Scientific Research, Ministry of Science and Higher Education, NCN, Global Exploration Fund of the National Geographic Society & Waitt  Grants Program and private sponsors).  In 2012, she was a member of a Polish-Peruvian research team that made a breakthrough discovery of the first unplanned tomb of representatives of the highest aristocracy of the pre-Columbian Wari empire (VIII-X century CE). Since 2011, a scientific consultant in the field of pre-Columbian cultures and folk art from the area of ​​South America at the National Ethnographic Museum in Warsaw.

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Wiesław Wieckowski – assistant professor at the Department of Archeology of the Americas, Faculty of Archeology, University of Warsaw.  He collaborates primarily with the research project at Castillo de Huarmey on the Peruvian coast.  He also conducts research in Israel, most recently in the legionary cemetery of the Roman camp Legio.

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Translation: A.B.

Editing: J.M.C., A.B.

Proofreading: Daniel Takacs

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