A team of archaeologists has excavated 32 graves in the El Chorro archaeological complex in Pomalca, Peru.
According to reports from local media, the remains were found alongside ceramic urns and other domestic items, including metal and bone spoons for feasting. But even more fascinating is the fact that several of the human remains are missing a crucial part of the skeleton – the feet.
Archaeologists working for the Museum of the Royal Tombs of Sipán say that there are 15 bodies of Mochica children and adolescents missing one or more bones in the foot. According to Edgar Bracamonte, who is overseeing the excavations, the team's initial thought was that these were amputations. Then, they noticed one skeleton was only missing the fibula (or calf bone). This, Bracamonte says, clearly shows that bone-stealing activity took place after the boy's death.
While this might seem like a bizarre practice through a 21st-century lens, it was actually not all that uncommon for pre-Hispanic cultures to remove the bones in the feet after death. The bones were then used to make jewelry – such as lockets. (A trend, it seems, that is making a comeback – albeit to a very niche market.)
"This makes the rituals and the cult of the dead we have in this area even more important and intriguing," Bracamonte told journalists, referring to the skeletons.
The Moche were a group of indigenous peoples who dominated northern Peruvian culture before the Incas, and, later, the Spanish colonialists, took over. In their heyday, from around 1 CE to 800 CE, the Moche built large, pyramid-like structures, created intricate works of pottery, and offered human sacrifices to appease their gods.
Twenty-three of the graves found (so far) belong to Mochicas. The remaining nine date to the Lambayeque (or Sicán) culture that followed the Moche, from around 750 CE to 1375 CE. Alongside the bodies, the team has excavated at least 150 vessels and several tumis (ceremonial knives).
"(In the rites) there was food, drinks, and music, we found a lot of whistles and foods of all kinds that are quite well preserved, as well as a number of pots with clear indications of food preparation," Bracamonte explained.
Excavations began in late September 2018 and are expected to continue until December 24.