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Huaca Rajada



The swing of a shovel from a grave robber’s hand in northern Peru in 1987 began a dramatic series of events that would eventually lead to one of the most important archaeological finds of all time. The looters had literally struck gold—and silver—on an eroded pyramid of adobe near the desert town of Sipán. However, what they left behind would reveal a wealth of knowledge about the Moche civilization, an ancient culture predating the Incas.


The remnants of a royal leader remained undiscovered in his gold- and silver-laden tomb thanks to the quick response of Peruvian archaeologist, Walter Alva, and local authorities. The Lord of Sipán, as he is now known, is considered by some experts to be one of the greatest archaeological discoveries in the Americas.


Even though the artifacts that have been found thus far are now located 50 kilometers (30 miles) away at a huge pyramid-shaped museum, Tumbas Reales de Sipán in Lambayeque, visiting the archaeological zone has a way of bringing context to its history. The residents of Sipán contribute to the maintenance of the Huaca Rajada funerary center and offer guided tours.


When visitors gaze upon the Lord of Sipán’s tomb, they actually see his stunt double decked out in the finest costume jewelry. Surrounding him were the bodies of eight servants, concubines and warriors, whose lives were cut short in assisting him on his journey to the spiritual world. One of the interred was missing a foot, perhaps keeping him on this worldly plane to guard the burial site.


If visiting the Huaca Rajada is considered the appetizer, a trip to the Tumbas Reales de Sipán museum is the main course. After all, the majority of its visitors want to see the precious metals from the tombs. The treasures are displayed in the order they were found, as if visitors to the museum themselves were excavating the tombs from the top to the bottom.


The grand finale is The Lord of Sipán’s regalia. He wore a three-foot-high semilunar gold crown. His ears were covered by golden orejeras encrusted with turquoise and lapis lazuli. In his nose, a nariguera hung down in front of his mouth. He carried a gold scepter and dagger carved with Moche figures. On his feet were silver sandals that rarely touched the ground because he was carried everywhere he went. Photos alongside the artifacts show the pieces as they were found in the earth, while detailed descriptions in both Spanish and English chronicle how the archaeologists removed and carefully restored the treasures.


The Sipán treasures have finally received the royal treatment they deserve. But as a reminder of the historic information that was dangerously close to being lost to the world, the museum also features recovered artifacts from the ransacked tombs at Huaca Rajada. The Moche artifacts were found in many parts of the world, but with international help—from the U. S. Federal Bureau of Investigation and Sotheby’s Auction House among others—the priceless treasures have made the journey back to northern Peru where they belong.

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