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Lord of Sipan: one of the most important archaeological finds in America

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Lord of Sipan: one of the most important archaeological finds in America

One of the greatest milestones in the history of world archeology is, without a doubt, the discovery in 1987 of the tomb of the Lord of Sipán. We are talking about an unprecedented event in the American continent, similar to that of Tutankhamun in Egypt, which caused a stir throughout the world. Its relevance lies in the fact that it was one of the most important and revered ancient rulers -reaching the category of demigod- of the pre-Inca era. 

When the Peruvian archaeologist Walter Alva and his research team found the funerary remains, after obtaining a series of clues about the location of an important mausoleum in the town of Sipán, in the Lambayeque region, they never thought to find relics whose wealth cultural and monetary would mark the history of Peru. 

On this tour, he discovers the secrets of the Lord of Sipán and learns more about what this transcendental archaeological discovery meant for Peru and also for the world. 

Story of a find 

The discovery of the tomb was due to the work on the recovery of a large number of pieces belonging to the Mochica culture that had been clandestinely extracted from the Huaca Rajada. Among everything recovered, a human head made of gold with silver-covered eyes stood out. The quality of the relics led archaeologists to believe that this place hid a tomb of a character of great importance. 

Excavations proved the conjecture to be true. First, an offering store was found containing more than a thousand pieces of ceramics, including copper crowns, spondylus shells and dozens of camelid bones. Later, the royal sarcophagus was found and with it, about 500 objects that included ornaments and clothing that covered the deceased. 

Of all of them, a crown, shell pectorals, a rattle and chin, eye and nose protectors stood out; all bathed in gold. Next to the great Lord, the skeletons of eight people were buried, which would be servants, concubines and warriors. 

Who was the Lord of Sipán? 

After the discovery, it was revealed that the life of the Lord of Sipán took place around the year 250 AD. C. and that he was the highest hierarch of the Moche culture, living approximately until he was forty years old. This civilization, which had its heyday during the 1st and 7th centuries, is one of the most important that was established on the north coast of Peru.

They stood out mainly for their pottery whose great beauty and aesthetics is the best proof of the worldview of this culture. Men and women, deities, mythological beings, animals, plants, as well as scenes of ceremonies and wars were represented in sculptures and all kinds of ornaments. Many of them have been found in their cemeteries.

Lord of Sipán: the most remarkable Peruvian archaeological find of the 20th century

The discovery of the intact tomb of the Lord of Sipán, 35 years ago, meant the most remarkable archaeological find in Peru in the last century and established a transcendental milestone for world archaeology, only compared to the discovery of the tomb of the Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamun a beginning of the 20th century. 

In February 1987, Cajamarca archaeologist Walter Alva was alerted by the police to the looting of a tomb of the Moche civilization in the town of Sipán, near the city of Chiclayo. This archaeological site was traditionally known as Huaca Rajada. 

Alva and his team, made up of, among others, archaeologists Luis Chero Zurita and Susana Meneses, undertook archaeological rescue work in Huaca Rajada and noted that what remained of the looted tomb evidenced unusual wealth in Moche burials until then known. 

What began as a salvage archeology campaign became a permanent archaeological project, as it became clear that the site could contain other tombs of similar status. Indeed, in that and the following years, the intact tombs of two Moche kings popularly known as "The Lord of Sipán" and "The Old Lord of Sipán" were found, buried with two companions. 

Throughout more than 20 years of work, 16 tombs of the Moche nobility have been archaeologically excavated. Among the latest finds is Tomb number 14, which belongs to a warrior-priest, dressed as the fourth character in the scene of the presentation painted on ceramics, where the main Moche deities appear. Tomb number 15 (2008) and Tomb number 16 (2009-2010) correspond to nobles who lived in the earliest stage of Sipán. 

These findings -considered the most lavish tombs found in the American continent in modern times, due to the quality of the jewels and ornaments that make up the funerary trousseau- shed new light on the organization of Moche society and the role of its leaders, and captured the interest of the international public.

The Lord of Sipán and his retinue

Using these new discoveries, along with prior knowledge of the Moche Culture, archaeologists and historians began to piece together a picture of the life of this 1,700-year-old ruler. He would have been between 35 and 55 years old at the time of his death, which matched the average life expectancy of the Moche civilization at that time. 

He was probably seen by his subjects as a deity, and they would have beheld him in the same attire he wore when buried: gold and other precious metals. His retinue at the tomb includes a guard with a foot amputated (to prevent him from abandoning his post), a boy, two warriors, and three women, presumably wives or concubines. There was also a dog, which may have been the favorite pet of the Lord of Sipán, and two llamas, which were probably offerings. 

The priest

The following year, in 1988, a second tomb was found and excavated near that of the Lord of Sipán. This contained an individual who archaeologists concluded was also a Moche priest, second only in status to the Lord of Sipán, surrounded by a guardian and two women. He was buried with numerous ritual objects, including a cup or bowl to collect the blood of sacrificial victims, a metal crown adorned with an owl with outstretched wings, and other items associated with moon worship. Around his neck was a necklace made of small gold pendants with human faces sporting a variety of expressions. 

The Old Lord of Sipán

Researchers from the Brüning National Archaeological Museum discovered in 1989 the tomb of the so-called “Old Lord of Sipán”, very close to the tomb of the Lord of Sipán and the priest. The tomb of the Old Lord of Sipán is chronologically older than the others, and unlike them, his burial chamber had emblems of the royal hierarchy, with elements of gold, silver and shell pectorals. However, it did not have any companions wrapped in vegetable components. All the original pieces have been restored at the Mainz Museum in Germany from 1988 to 1993, and are currently exhibited at the Royal Tombs of Sipán Museum in Lambayeque.

Royal Tombs of Sipán Museum 

Alva has been, in turn, a tenacious enemy of pre-Columbian art trafficking and a promoter of the construction of a museum for the finds of Sipán, a crusade that culminated in 2002 with the inauguration of the modern Royal Tombs of Sipán Museum, of which it was his director until 2021 and is currently its past director.

The Royal Tombs of Sipán Museum, located 30 kilometers from the city of Chiclayo, is dedicated to the investigation, protection and dissemination of the most important archaeological discoveries made in Sipán. 

The museum exhibits the royal jewels, outfits and emblems that make up the funerary trousseau of the main characters of the Mochica elite. Among them stands out the Lord of Sipán, the most important sovereign buried in the mausoleum discovered by Walter Alva, Luis Chero and Susana Meneses in 1987. 

Among the main emblems of command discovered, the scepter of the Lord of Sipán stands out, crowned by an inverted truncated pyramid forged in pure gold and inscribed with images that symbolize the military power of the character as the highest authority of his time. 

"The discovery of the tomb and its correlation with the images that appear in the Mochica iconography and the ornaments that we have recovered and that are exhibited in the museum, has allowed the tomb to become a key to understanding the Mochica world," he stressed. Walter Alba. 

3D Bust Unveiled 

In the ceremony for the thirtieth anniversary of the discovery of the tomb of the Lord of Sipán, in 2017, the bust with the face of the Moche hierarch who reigned over the Lambayeque valleys 1,700 years ago was unveiled, reconstructed thanks to the 3D technique. This reconstruction was carried out by the Brazilian specialist Cícero Moraes and a team of professionals from the Inca Garcilaso de la Vega University (UIGV). 

The reconstruction of the face of the Moche hierarch was a job that was done with great care and that allows not only to have the idea of the figure of the Lord of Sipán, but also to put a face on the character that represents all this remarkable archaeological find.

How to get to the tomb of the Lord of Sipán?

A proper visit to this archaeological find includes a stop at the Museo Tumbas Reales de Sipán, which contains most of the original treasures excavated from the site, and another stop at the archaeological site of Huaca Rajada, the collection of adobe pyramids where it was found. originally the tomb. Both places are in Lambayeque. 

In the center of Chiclayo you can buy a series of tourist packages that include visits to both places or, if you have a smaller budget, you can also reach both destinations by bus. The buses leave for the city of Lambayeque, 10 minutes from Chiclayo, from the bus station at the intersection of Vicente de la Vega and Leonardo Ortiz in Chiclayo. 

To get to the tomb of the Lord of Sipán, it is convenient to start from the city of Chiclayo. Flights are available to Chiclayo from Lima and many other cities in Peru. The most common (and cheapest) way to travel around Peru is by bus. There are several well-known companies that make daily routes to Chiclayo. With redBus you can book an affordable and totally flexible trip, stopping at all the most famous and important attractions in the region. From Lima to Chiclayo, the redBus ticket costs between 50 and 100 soles, and the journey takes between 12 and 15 hours approximately. 

Other tourist attractions in the department of Lambayeque

The Cathedral

Located in the main park of the city of Chiclayo, also known as the Cathedral of Santa María, its construction is neoclassical in style and dates from 1869-71 (1928-56 in its remodeling) according to the design and plans commissioned. to Gustave Eiffel, from whom it receives its name “Rose Meridionale”. Considered as part of the Cultural Heritage of the Nation, this beautiful monumental structure has beautiful stained glass windows with Marian scenes taken from the catechism, bells brought from Germany and the image of Santa María de los Valles de Chiclayo.

Municipal Palace

Historic and artistic monument of Lambayeque, which is part of the Cultural Heritage of the Nation. It is located in the Plaza de Armas of the city of Chiclayo and it is an elegant building whose construction dates back to 1919, in an area of more than 1,600 square meters and inaugurated in 1924. Designed by the Italian Giraldino, it has a republican architecture with strong Spanish influence, with large windows and wrought iron doors. Restored after the fire of 2006, it currently functions as a museum where part of the rooms on the first floor is used for photographic exhibitions.

Church of San Pedro

Built in the 17th century and in the Renaissance style, it has the only metal altarpiece in northern Peru, and in 1972 it was declared a Historical Monument by the National Institute of Culture.

Colonial Mansions

Lambayeque has the most representative and important colonial mansions of the architecture developed on the Peruvian coast in the 18th century, declared historical and monumental heritage of the region, such as Casa Cúneo, located on 8 de Octubre Street, whose complex façade still exhibits the remains of allegorical elements such as rampant lions and serpents, as well as iconography of sacred temples of the time. It is said that this façade, perhaps unique in Peru, was originally covered with gold leaf. Casa Montjoy, also called "the lodge", as it was once the house of the Freemasons, shows the longest balcony in Peru, 67 meters. At Casa Descalzi, the wooden beams of the main hall end in carved heads representing serpents from Moche mythology.

In addition, some of the best archaeological museums in Peru are found in the region:

Sicán National Museum

Located in the city of Ferreñafe, near Chiclayo, on the north coast of Peru. The museum is mainly dedicated to the culture of Lambayeque or Sicán. It exhibits ceramic and metallic objects and archaeological remains found in the Huaca el Oro and Huaca Las Ventanas, being famous for its gold funerary masks and the Tumi or ceremonial knives.

Brüning National Archaeological Museum

Located in the city of Lambayeque, it was inaugurated in 1966 and is located two blocks from the main park. Its corridors and halls display more than 1,400 archaeological pieces, legacies of the Lambayeque, Moche, Chavín, Vicús, Inca, and other cultures. The most important pieces date back more than 10,000 years. Its Hall of Goldsmiths preserves one of the most important goldsmith collections in America, including some of the pieces found in the tomb of the Lord of Sipán.

Museo del Valle de las Pirámides de Túcume

Túcume is an archaeological site located 33 km north of the city of Chiclayo, in the lower part of the La Leche Valley, in northwestern Peru. It is formed by the remains of numerous adobe pyramids or huacas, around a rocky structure known as Cerro La Raya. It was one of the administrative and ceremonial centers of the Sicán or Lambayeque Culture, and dates back to the 11th century. It was successively annexed to the Chimú kingdom and the Inca Empire, and remained in force until the time of the Spanish conquest. The museum exhibits archaeological collections from excavations carried out in Túcume between 1989 and 1994. The main room exhibits an important archaeological collection linked to the Lambayeque, Chimú and Inca cultures, as well as a collection of ethnographic objects, mainly ceramics, textiles and materials associated with a curanderismo table.

But Lambayeque is not only an archaeological and museum zone. In the dry forests of Laquipampa and Chongoyape, especially in the Chaparrí Ecological Reserve, tourists can enjoy the magnificent Chongoyape waterfall and the immense lagoon created by the Tinajones reservoir, among other beautiful natural formations.

Best Tours in Peru

Many are the routes that take you to Machu Picchu, but none is like the Inca Trail Tours, the most famous pedestrian path in the Americas. After flying from the capital of Perú, Lima, you will arrive in Cusco to walk for four days along a path through forests and dense fog, millenary stone steps and discovering the ruins of ancient fortifications and Inca cities, and all the time enjoying majestic views. 

If you want to visit Machu Picchu, we recommend you to book your Machu Picchu Ticket in advance, so you will enjoy your Vacation in Machu Picchu without any problem.

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