Photo: The Priestess's tomb
The Chornancap priestess, the woman of the greatest hierarchy yet discovered in the Lambayeque culture, has the vestiges of her ancient power on show in Lima at an exhibition of grave goods found surrounding her remains near the northern Peruvian coastal city of Chiclayo.
The exhibit was inaugurated by the Culture Ministry at the Museum of the Nation to give visitors a view of 62 pieces recovered from her tomb at the archaeological complex of Chotuna-Chornancap.
The artifacts were previously preserved at the Brüning National Archaeological Museum and bear witness to the woman’s elite religious status between the 12th and 13th centuries A.D. in Lambayeque society, whose best-known personage is the Lord of Sipan, who ruled the region during the third century A.D.
The exhibition includes such items as her ceremonial scepter, earrings and crown, all made of gold, as well as metal urns, bracelets, necklaces, shell pendants and a large variety of ceramics in the Lambayeque and Cajamarca style, testifying to the close ties between those societies.
The Chornancap priestess was discovered in October 2011 but not until April of this year was it discerned that the remains were those of a woman, who was interred “with the highest honors and accompanied by eight other people,” the director of the Chotuna-Chornancap dig, Carlos Wester La Torre, told Efe last April.
The archaeologist compared the priestess’s preeminence as a religious authority in the area with the role exercised by the Lady of Cao in the Mochica culture during the fourth century A.D., the most powerful woman yet known to have existed in Peru’s pre-Inca societies, a ruler who was also believed to have supernatural powers.
Wester also noted the “fine quality” of the goldwork now on view at the exhibit that was found buried with the priestess, because in his opinion “it shows that goldsmiths of the Lambayeque culture mastered the art as well as their predecessors of the Mochica culture.”
He particularly valued her golden necklaces with anthropomorphic pendants, bracelets with contrasting gold and silver elements, and above all the details engraved in the very elaborate ornamentation.
“This has revolutionized our thinking,” Wester told Current World Archaeology as reported in its online edition world-archaeology.com. “It shows wealth and power were not a male privilege in this culture; this is categorical evidence of women involved in the political and ideological apparatus of the time. Her youth indicates the post was hereditary, and her grave goods suggest she performed rituals such as sacrifices, receiving offerings, and celebrating changes of the seasons, the moon, and tides.”
The team of archaeologists from Chotuna-Chornancap last week unveiled another tomb found beneath that of the priestess and her grave goods, and which held the remains of another leading figure from the region, buried with similar objects but with the oddity that this grave was constructed so it could be flooded with water.
According to Wester, the time lapse between the Chornancap priestess and the newly found human remains, whose sex has not yet been determined, was very short and indicates a connection between the two, though he would not speculate on whether the link might be “familial, matrimonial or religious.”