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Graverobbers and Life After Death - My Visit to a Moche Lord's Tomb

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The Sipan burial site - a glorious tomb
If you were to set out on a World Trek, you would need to take some clothes, food, accessories, and some other Trekkers with you. So try to imagine what would you need to take if you were to journey to...the next world? How about a couple llamas, or a guard with amputated feet? These are just a couple of the things the Moche left with one of their rulers when he died, and I was able to see it first hand at the fascinating site of Sipan.

After the long and difficult trek from Panama, I was very happy to finally be in Peru. I've spent a couple of days in Peru's fourth largest city, called Chiclayo. Sipan is a 1,500 year old Moche burial site that is located near Chiclayo. Sipan means "Casa de la Luna", or "House of the Moon."

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Peru - Chiclayo & Sipan
Sipan is in the middle of a desert area. The sun is brutally hot and the air equally dry and dusty. The Andes Mountains could be clearly seen off in the distance. Sipan consists of a very large pyramid and a few minor ones surrounding it. There are at least ten tombs that have already been excavated and a few more that are still being worked on, but it was deep within the large pyramid where the divine Moche leader, also known as the Lord of Sipan, was buried.

The climb up to the top of the pyramid is very steep. These pyramids were made with thousands of adobe bricks uniformly shaped and stamped with a mark of the workers who made them. The sides of the pyramids were then covered over with mud so they would appear smooth and seamless.

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Can you identify the lord, the guard, the wife, and the child?
From the top of the pyramid I was able to look far down into the great ruler's tomb. Although the original artifacts have been removed from the site to be better displayed and preserved elsewhere, the tomb has been set up with replications of items uncovered during the excavation, to give us an idea of what it looked like centuries ago. The Lord of Sipan's skeleton was in the center of the tomb. His casket was made of cane and within it lay all that was left of his majestic clothing, jewelery, and decorations. These included a solid gold prism shaped object held in his hands that looked like a gavel. He also had a gold nosepiece and large plates of gold in an arch shape which were worn on his head or hung from his chest.

But his was not the only casket, for alongside of him were coffins containing the remains of a guard (whose feet had been amputated), three young women, two assistants, a servant, a child, a dog and two llamas! Adornments of gold, silver, and copper as well as many semi-precious stones were buried with them. As if taking the lives of his servants wasn't enough, the Lord of Sipan's tomb also held hundreds of ceramic pots (some large and some small) that at the time of his death were all filled with enough food and drink to last him until he reached his final destination!

The great devotion to this ruler, who was able to display such wealth and power even in the face of death, must have been quite an inspiration to the many people who built the Lord of Sipan's tomb. Even today the site is well maintained and protected, although this was not the case at first.

Back in 1987, archeologist Dr. Alva began to notice an increasing amount of beautiful artifacts appearing on the black market and he quickly realized that an important burial site was being ransacked by "huaqueros", or grave robbers. "Huacas" are temples, shrines, or burial sites that often contain such riches as sheets of gold and silver, or other royal treasures.

Both the local archeologists and the police stopped the robbers from plundering this site. However, after police shot one of the huaqueros, local residents became resentful that these treasures were being kept from them and became unfriendly to the archeologists. The solution to this problem was to employ the local population in much of the excavation, research, and guarding of the site. In addition, there is an on-site museum with in-depth displays about the Moche, their burial sites, and the Lord of Sipan.

The Moche culture developed about 2,000 years ago in this lower river valley. This strip of coastline is mostly desert, but over centuries several rivers have formed here. The Moche were able to develop systems of irrigation to support their agriculture in this river valley environment. The land was also rich with clay and metals, which were used to create artistic works that tell us much about the Moche since they kept no written records.


Shawn - Life on a Cargo Boat
Kavitha - Starving and Penniless
Monica - We Began the Journey as Paupers and Finished with a Japanese Feast!
Making a Difference - Live from Death Row
Team - Peru's Early Hunters, Artists and Fighters
Abeja - Hot! Hot! Hot! I Looked Into His Eyes and Melted...
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