The True Story Of The Petrified Man Of Peru

A team of archeologists from the National University of San Marcos began searching a site near Lima, Peru in October of 2021. The 40-person team uncovered vestiges of ancient civilizations including vegetables, stone tools, and ceramics (via Reuters) — all significant in their own right — but they were not prepared for one particularly shocking discovery.

"The whole team was really happy because we didn't think this was going to happen," Yomira Huamán Santillá, one of the team's lead archaeologists, told CNN in November 2021, shortly after the discovery was made. "We didn't expect to make such an important discovery."

To everyone's amazement, the team unearthed a well-preserved mummy — a finding every bit as significant as it was stunning. It's estimated to be between 800 and 1200 years old. Perhaps even more of a surprise, the mummy had been bound in the fetal position with ropes with its hands covering its face.

Who Was the Person in the Tomb?

The way the body was found might seem shocking to us today, but Pieter Van Dalen Luna, one of the team's archeologists, says that was the normal funeral tradition at the time, via Reuters.

The person is thought to have been young, some 25 to 30 years old, possibly a man, and thought to be someone of importance because of where the tomb was located. "The fact of finding a mummy with these characteristics in the middle of the plaza makes it clear that this is someone of high status," Van Dalen Luna told CNN. He said the person might have been a trader. The tomb was found under the archeological site of Cajmarquilla, which in ancient times was known as an active hub for trade.

Whoever the person was, it appears he or she was sorely missed. It's thought people continued to bring offerings to the deceased for some time after the death based on the scattered mollusk shells and llama bones found outside the tomb, via CNN. Also inside the tomb, researchers found the skeleton of an Andean guinea pig and what they believe was a dog, via Al Jazeera.

What Might the Discovery Reveal?

The mummy went on display at the National University of San Marcos in Lima in December 2021 and will be housed there while the team studies it further, via The Economic Times. Researchers say they plan to use carbon dating to better understand the age of the mummy. They hope their findings will shed new light on human activities in the times before the Incas ruled the area, via CNN.

Peru has been a treasure trove for archeologists with hundreds of archaeological sites yielding discoveries from before, during, and after the Inca Empire ruled the area some 500 years ago. In October of 2021, archeologists discovered a mass grave of 25 people in the ancient Peruvian city of Chan Chan thought to date back to the 15th century, via the BBC. They believe it may have been a burial ground for elite members of society.

While the mummy's discovery will surely add to the understanding of ancient civilizations, it is hardly the oldest one ever found. That title goes to an 8,000-year-old mummy discovered in Portugal, via LiveScience.