Photo: Remains of priestess of the Lambayeque culture found in Peru
Researchers at the Chotuna-Chornancap archaeological digs near the Peruvian city of Chiclayo have found the funerary remains of a woman who was a priestess of the Lambayeque or Sican culture, the project director, Carlos Wester La Torre, told Efe.
The preliminary conclusion of physical anthropologist Mario Millones is that this was a woman between 25-30 years old who lived during the second half of the 13th century A.D. in the waning days of that culture on Peru’s northern coast, whose most important historical figure was the Lord of Sipan, considered the Tutankhamun of America, in the 3rd century A.D.
The research, promoted by Peru’s Culture Ministry, got started eight months ago with an excavation that two months later came upon the tomb, but it wasn’t until a few days ago that the sex and age of the priestess were determined.
The bundle of her possessions found in this tomb at the palace where she undoubtedly lived, together with the remains of another seven individuals, a llama, and “a quantity of really impressive goods in terms of quality and technology,” all point to the high social standing she enjoyed in her lifetime.
“Her youth indicates that the post was hereditary and its functions were eminently religious, related to such rituals as sacrifices, the receipt of offerings, and celebrating changes of the seasons, the moon and the tides,” Wester La Torre said.
She also had contact and relations with neighboring cultures like the Cajamarca and others coming from Ecuador that provided her with shells, gold, ceramics and other of the era’s most prized materials and products.
Also found beside her remains were “ceremonial urns bearing revealing icons and objects including a golden sceptre with the image of a Lambayeque divinity, items she used during her life that testify to her prominence.”
“This is all extraordinary information for us because it clearly places the woman within the power structure of a complex society, and reveals that power and religious hierarchy were not the sole province of men, since there is no reason to think there were not more women just like her,” he said.
Carlos Wester compared this discovery with that of the priestesses found 20 years ago at San Jose de More, women who had held positions of religious power in the Mochica culture, which occupied the northern coast of Peru between 100 B.C. and 700 A.D., and also with the intact mummy of the Lady of Cao, the only woman known to have ruled ancient Peru and who was believed to have had supernatural powers.
The director of the Chotuna-Chornancap archaeological project said that, “curiously, it was in the last years of both cultures that women were seen in religious life and positions of power.”
“We still have to see whether this female presence was a political response of society at a time of crisis in order to regain stability, or was a conscious response to the need to have females in power,” he said.
Though the state of conservation of the skeletal remains is “good in general terms,” they will be removed as a whole “without taking them apart as is usually done,” in order to continue studying them in the laboratory and later exhibiting them as “testimony” to women’s access to power in pre-Columbian civilizations.