These burials are contemporary with the early Mayan period and the Dark Ages of Europe before the Viking Age. Some of the material is probably even older than that. -DD
The bodies were mummified naturally by being buried directly in the sand with no stone structures, wrapped in cotton veils, reed mats or fishing nets, and radiocarbon dating shows that the oldest mummies came from 4th century AD, while the youngest mummies came from 7th century AD.
Under Project Tambo, the team have been excavating in the Tambo River delta in the northern region of the Atacama Desert since 2008 and the first mummies were found in 2012, but it took until March 2014 for the team to make major discoveries.
There were also richly decorated weaving tools, jewellery made from tumbaga (a gold and copper alloy) and copper, reed withes attached to the ears of the dead and beautiful intact pottery.
In one grave, the archaeologists even found the remains of a llama, which would mean that the animal had been brought to the region much earlier than previously thought.
“Llama burials are quite common in the pre-Columbian cultures,” says Szykulski.
“We learned a lot about what equipment had been used, such as baskets and fishing nets, what these people were doing, which was agriculture and fishing, how they dressed, what ornaments they wore and even how they combed their hair.”
The Tiwanaku people were not believed to have ventured as far as the Tambo River delta, and the discovery of these tombs will help to increase understanding of pre-Columbian civilisations in Peru.