National Geographic : 1990 Jun
THE MOCHE OF ANCIENT PERU By WALTER ALVA DIRECTOR, BRONING ARCHAEOLOGICAL MUSEUM, LAMBAYEQUE, PERU Photographs by NATHAN BENN ew C ATCHING THE SUN for the first time in nearly 2,000 years, a wrinkled gold head about two inches high lies as we unearthed it from a Moche tomb near Sipan, Peru. Perched atop shell and stone beads, the head was one of ten that were once linked to form a gorgeous necklace for the tomb's royal occupant. Incredibly we found five other large necklaces, three of silver and two of gold, plus an assortment of gold objects, finely crafted nose ornaments and other jewelry, and large fig urines of gilded copper. These treasures surpass an earlier excavation I directed at Sipan (NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, Octo ber 1988) for the distinction of the richest unlooted tomb excavated in the New World. Who was the occupant? I call him El Viejo Sefior de Sipan the Old Lord of Sipan. Possibly he was a forebear of the warrior priest, the Lord of Sipan, whose tomb we had discovered in 1987. We believe that at least three other tombs remain to be exca vated at this site, probably the richest in the Moche domain, which stretched for 250 miles along Peru's northern coast in ancient times. In them we hope to discover other chapters in the book of these little-known Peruvians, masters of metal working and irrigation, who never achieved a written language. Instead, they told their story in finely crafted precious metals and exceptional pottery, and they challenge us to interpret it.