Wed 19 May, 2004 23:13
By Monica Vargas
LIMA, Peru (Reuters) - A well-preserved graveyard possibly 1,000 years old has been discovered at an archeological complex of Inca and pre-Inca temples on the outskirts of the Peruvian capital, experts said on Wednesday.
Archeologists this week unearthed the remains of 30 people, including 19 still intact as mummies, dating from between 1000 and 1500, making them some of the oldest mummies ever found in Peru.
They said the discovery was "exceptional" because the site had not been plundered by grave robbers and that some of the dead were religious sacrifices.
"It is an exceptional discovery that shows the remains of several cultures buried on top of each other. According to our calculations they date from between 1000 and 1500," archeologist Peter Eeckhout of Brussels Free University, who led the excavation project, told reporters on Wednesday.
It was not clear to which cultures the mummies belonged but they were likely to have been farmers and craftsmen who lived before the Inca empire five centuries ago.
The graveyard, which stretches over a 220-square-yard area, is within the boundaries of the Pachacamac archeological complex 19 miles south of Lima and its discovery follows weeks of digs by archeologists.
The Pachacamac temple complex has been looted for valuable artifacts many times over since the first significant discoveries of mummies there over a century ago.
In the latest discovery, four of the mummies probably died as sacrifices and were either buried alive, killed by blows to the head or strangled, archeologists said.
Holding up the remains of a 2-year-old boy, British archeologist Lawrence Owens said: "The position of the body and the remains of his feces indicate he tried unsuccessfully to free himself from the burial bundle and was buried alive."
Another of those sacrificed was a 12-year-old boy whose skull was cracked at the front, probably by a heavy blow.
"We found a tumi knife close to the body and its size corresponds with that of the skull fracture," Owens said.
"If you ask me if this was a ritual sacrifice, I would say yes," he added. A mummified 35-year-old man with a rope around his neck was also among the four sacrificed, Owens said.
Archeologists have uncovered thousands of mummies in recent years that mostly date from the Inca culture, including about 2,000 unearthed from under a shantytown near the capital in 2002. In February, two mummies predating the Incas were found under a school in southern Peru.