When archaeologists from the National University of San Marcos set out to begin excavating in Cajamarquilla, an archaeological site located just 15.5 miles inland from the coastal and capital city of Lima, Peru, they had no idea they were about to make an incredible and valuable discovery. Beginning their project in October 2021, approximately 40 people began digging in search of artifacts, and it wasn’t long before they hit the archaeological jackpot.


Fetal position


The mummy found at Cajamarquilla in fetal position

During the excavation, archaeologists were unsure of what exactly they would find and certainly did not predict locating the valuable artifact they soon unearthed in the tomb. Easily the most incredible discovery of the excavation was a mummy in near-perfect condition. The entire body was well-preserved and is unmistakably the remains of a human.


The position that the mummy was found in is a bit creepy to see today but was actually very common for funeral rituals during the height of the Huari civilization. The body was wrapped in cloth and was bound by rope in a fetal position. The strangest part was that the hands were covering the face. What looks like a painful death for the mummy was actually a position created by those caring for the funeral, a ritualistic practice for the dead.


What we’ve learned about the find


The tomb of the mummy at Cajamarquilla

While examining the body of the mummy, archaeologists determined that the specimen was a man, aged somewhere between 25 and 30 years old. It has also been determined that this particular man must have been one of importance in his society, as not everyone would have been buried with the same care as he was. The Lord of Sipán, a mummy previously found with similar burial patterns, has helped us to understand this man’s social status.


During the decline of the Huari civilization, funeral practices became a lot less intricate and more careless, with a lot of the remains discovered from this period having broken bones or fractures, suggesting human-on-human violence leading to the end of the civilization. As such, archaeologists have also suggested that it is likely that he lived between 800 and 1,200 years ago, during the height of the Huari civilization, which predates the Inca civilization.


Also in the tomb


Artifacts found with the mummy as Cajamarquilla

Found alongside the mummy in the tomb were other important artifacts that have helped illuminate the ways of the past. Various vegetable remains and the remains of animals such as dogs, guinea pigs, and llamas were found in the tomb, as well as primitive musical instruments, suggesting that visitors attended the tomb for years following the man’s death.


One of the head archaeologists of the excavation, Pieter Van Dalen Luna, said, “for them, death was not the end, but rather a transition to a parallel world where the dead lived. They thought that the souls of the dead became the protectors of the living.” This knowledge has allowed archaeologists to understand why sea mollusk remains were also found at the tomb. Located relatively close to the coastline, the tomb would be littered with sea mollusk offerings by the living.


On display

The mummy found at Cajamarquilla with its hands covering its face

The discovery of the mummy in this condition was incredible. Co-head of the excavation, Yamira Huamán Santillán, said, “the whole team was really happy because we didn’t think that was going to happen.” Their findings were more than they had hoped for, and it has helped us gain a better understanding of the pre-Hispanic period.


The mummy, as well as other artifacts, were moved from the tomb and put on display at Lima’s San Marcos University in Peru so that members of the public could view this haunting discovery.

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