Pre Inca Woman with tattoos found in Peru Pyramid

Geometry, Machu Picchu

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Above left Mystery Mummy (cover choice, center, National Geographic June 2006 Issue) An ornately tattooed 1,600-year-old mummy unearthed in Peru could be a warrior queen of the violent Moche people. Above right: Pyramids of El Brujo, Huaca Cao Viejo.


Tattooed mummy, baptized the Lady of Cao, discovered in Peru
May 16, 2006. Source: MSN News, AP, National Geographic

Tattooed mummy puzzles scientists in Peru. They say items found alongside female hint that she was a warrior.

Mummy of a Moche woman with a golden bowl over her face.

The mummy of a Moche woman lies in her grave bundle with a golden bowl over her face and beads spilling from long-disintegrated necklaces. At the lower edge of the image, tattoos can be seen on the mummy's arm.

Ira Block / National Geographic


The elaborately wrapped mummy was discovered perfectly preserved.



A female mummy, baptized the Lady of Cao, with complex tattoos on her arms has been found in a ceremonial burial site in Peru, the National Geographic Society reported Tuesday. Archaeologists say is one of the best-ever relics of a civilization that ended more than 1,300 years ago.

The mummy was accompanied by ceremonial items including jewelry and weapons, and the remains of a teenage girl who had been sacrificed, archaeologists reported. Such a complete array has never been seen before in a Moche tomb.

The presence of gold jewelry and other fine items indicates the mummy was that of an important person, but anthropologist John Verano of Tulane University said the researchers are puzzled by the presence of war clubs, which are not usually found with females.

Peruvian archaeologists, under the direction of lead scientist Régulo Franco, made the discovery last year at an ancient ceremonial site known as El Brujo -  “the Wizard”.

The tomb lay near the top of a crumbling pyramid called Huaca Cao Viejo, a ruin near the town of Trujillo that has been well known since colonial times.

Verano said the finding is the first of its kind in Peru, and he likens it to the discovery of King Tut's tomb in Egypt.

"We have an entire repertoire of a very high status tomb, preserved perfectly," Verano said.

The burial site that held the tattooed mummy was part of an ornate enclosure holding four graves, at a ceremonial site known as El Brujo — “the Wizard” on Peru’s north coast, near Trujillo.

They said the woman was part of the Moche culture, which thrived in the area between A.D. 1 and A.D. 700. The mummy was dated about A.D. 450.

The woman had complex tattoos, distinct from others of the Moche, covering both arms and other areas. Bone scarring indicated the woman had given birth at least once. The cause of her death was not apparent.

Verano said she would have been considered an adult in her prime. Some Moche people reached their 60s and 70s.

The grave also contained headdresses, jewelry made of gold and semiprecious stones, war clubs, spear throwers, gold sewing needles, weaving tools and raw cotton.

“Perhaps she was a female warrior, or maybe the war clubs and spear throwers were symbols of power that were funeral gifts from men,” Verano said. In the thousands of Moche tombs previously exposed, no female warrior has been identified.

Mummy an "Astonishing" Find

Verano, who has been working with the El Brujo project since 1995, said the area is "one gigantic cemetery" that has been scoured by grave-robbers for centuries.

But the newly found funerary chamber had been sealed from both looters and the elements since around A.D. 450.

The Peruvian team found the complete burial array intact and perfectly preserved, down to the white cotton wrappings of the mummy bundle.

"It's astonishing," said Moche authority Christopher Donnan, an anthropologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, who was not part of the excavation. "This is far and away the best preserved Moche mummy that has ever been found."

The find is described in the June issue of National Geographic magazine.

The Peruvian team is funded by the Augusto N. Wiese Foundation and Peru's National Institute of Culture.

Verano's research is funded by the National Geographic Society's Committee for Research and Exploration. (National Geographic News is part of the National Geographic Society.)

The Moche

The culture of the Moche, who constructed the largest adobe pyramid in the Americas, the Moche Sun Pyramid, developed along Peru's northern coast near what is now the country's third-largest city Trujillo. It flourished in the river valley oases from 100 A.D. to 800 A.D. The Lady of Cao dates to 450 A.D.

The Moche were later conquered by the Chimus, who were known for elaborate irrigation systems and built Chan Chan, one of the world's largest adobe cities.

They in turn were conquered by the Incas, who built a civilization that stretched from the Equator to the Pacific coast of Chile and are best known for the Machu Picchu citadel in southern Peru.

Their rule came to an abrupt end in the 1530s when they were subjugated by the Spanish Conquistadors.

The Moche's Huaca Cao Viejo pyramid is covered in reliefs that suggest prisoners were sacrificed to the gods by a warrior-priest. It was abandoned for centuries.

Moche pottery has been the main way that experts had interpreted their culture. The ceramics showed the Moche had well-developed weaving techniques, but because of rainstorms every few decades, most of their textiles have been destroyed.

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Moment 600 years ago that terror
came to Mummies of the Amazon.


Peru Promotes Mummy to Lure Tourists

October 17, 2006. Source:

Since its discovery in 2005, Caup Mecherroec, or, as she is more commonly known, Senora de Cao, has captured global attention for her prestige and importance in the Mochica culture, a Pre-Incan civilization originating from the northern coast of Peru.

The mummy, who stood at 4.8 feet tall and was between 20-25 years old, as well as all of her noble possessions that were buried with her, will form part of a plan to create a special exhibition gallery in the very location dedicated to her as a mausoleum.

The exhibition will include a richly decorated mural, and is located at the summit of Huaca Cao Viejo in the archaeological complex of El Brujo. The El Brujo complex is located in the town of Magdalena de Cao in the Chicaza Valley, just 45 minutes from the city of Trujillo. The exhibition will open in spring 2007.

Visitors to the exhibition will be amazed to see how well preserved the body is which was a result of the meticulous treatment and preparation of a complicated Mochica ritual that included the application of cinnabar, a red mineral that inhibits the decomposition of the skin and tissues.

Furthermore, her face was covered with a piece of cotton cloth and protected by a bowl-shaped piece of gilded copper. In addition, her burial site which was in a dry location also contributed to her state of preservation.

During the Senora de Cao exhibit, visitors can see this prestigious leader s possessions and emblematic objects, among them her symbolic tattoos which include a spider, nocturnal animals and a serpent on her forearms, ankles and fingers which contributed to her eminent image.

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Last updated: October 5, 2007