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Tattooed mummy puzzles scientists in Peru

A female mummy with complex tattoos on her arms has been found in a ceremonial burial site in Peru, along with war clubs and an apparent sacrificial victim.
Moche II
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
/ Source: The Associated Press

A female mummy with complex tattoos on her arms has been found in a ceremonial burial site in Peru, the National Geographic Society reported Tuesday.

The mummy was accompanied by ceremonial items including jewelry and weapons, and the remains of a teenage girl who had been sacrificed, archaeologists reported.

The burial was at a site called El Brujo 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 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.

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.

Ira Block

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.

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