May ’13 Chiclayo
Our first full day here we didn’t do much as Howard’s bowels were causing him grief! We did manage to get to the main square without being mown down (a minor miracle), Howard finally got a haircut and I have never known someone take so much pride in his work – Juan was a perfectionist, he must have been in the military!, we managed to sort out and book ourselves on a tour for the next day and found the bus station we needed to book our tickets for Trujillo on Sunday, which after a long time in a queue we did.
The next day was fantastic we were booked on The Sipan Tour with Moche Tours and the guide spoke excellent English and hearing him switch between Spanish and English was quite mesmerising. We left Chiclayo and drove through the countryside with field up field of sugar cane, past tiny villages which resembled those in poor parts of asia – simple mud brick houses and rough, dusty unpaved roads.
Eventually we arrived in the dusty sleepy village of Sipan and our first stop was at the Museum associated with the sites of the
tombs. The items and displays were copies of what was found in the actual tombs and you could take photos, all the original artifacts are displayed in the Museo Tumbas Reales De Sipan in Lambayeque which we visited later.
It was a great museum and showed how the tombs were uncovered and how layer by layer all the items were removed and preserved.
We then visited the actual tombs which were only discovered after (and here there are two versions) locals handed into the police items they had found fearing they may be cursed for taking them or police became wise to locals suddenly spending lots of money and discovered some of the loot, other items were subsequently seized in the suitcases of politicians smuggling them out to America. So in 1987 the tomb of the Lord of Sipan was found.
It isn’t so surprising that these tombs lain untouched for so long as the pyramids are built of mud bricks and are so weathered that they blend into the landscape and only in a few places can you actually see the bricks.
Three tombs have been found so far, one of a warrior priest, one
of the grandfather of Lord Sipan (link proved through DNA testing) and that of Lord Sipan – who was buried with a lookout man above the tomb and two warrior guardians with their feet cut off, a child, his wife, two concubines, two llamas and a dog within the tomb. Hundreds of items were found in the grave including vases containing seeds for use in the afterlife, jewellery and pottery. The find has been compared to that of Tutankhamen.
The Lord of Sipan and the other tombs were from the Moche civilization which dated from 1 AD to 700 AD but there is also evidence that the site was used by later by the Lambayesque/Sican, Chimu and Inca cultures also.
This was all very exciting and we were keen to see more but first we had the obligatory lunch stop where we passed on the local goat which was the speciality of the region.
Next stop was Tucume to see the pyramids. There are actually 26 pyramids in this site, with two off in the distance which were believed to be the original ones and this site was where the Lambayesque/Sican peoples moved to, next to the
sacred mountain – La Raya (which if you climb to the top off your sins are then washed away, apparently).
This was a vast site, the pyramids don’t look spectacular at first glance as the mud brick structures are really weathered away, but again you get the odd glimpse of brick and you can see clearly how they were built in layers. As one ruler dies and is buried, the layer is filled in and the next tomb built on top and so on. There are also ramps used to get up to the layers. So far only three pyramids have been excavated and they are still working on them, so you cannot go in any of them.
We climbed up the start of the sacred mountain – along with hoardes of school children and reached the lookout point. From here we had a fantastic over view of the whole site and it was incredible it stretches for miles! The longest pyramid in the world is at this site!!
Apparently local shaman healers invoke the power of Tucume and La Raya in their rituals and the local people fear the site and only the healers will go
into the site at night!!
From Tucume we returned to Lambayeque to visit the piece de resistance – the Museo Tumbas Reales De Sipan……security was pretty tight and no one was allowed to take anything in with them, photography wasn’t allowed inside and we were all swiped with the metal detector before we could walk up the ramp into the huge red pyramid.
I have to say this was an incredible museum! You descended through the darkened layers of the pyramid with each revealing the artifacts that were found in the Sipan tombs. There are photos from each stage of the uncovering of the tombs so you can marvel at how beautifully restored the pieces are and wonder at the archaeologists skills. The pieces themselves are skilfully displayed and lit for maximum impact and they are breath taking!
Each of the tombs and their occupants are individually revealed with their associated companions and all the grave goods. It is difficult to describe the wonder of this museum. We marvelled at how strong the Lords of Sipan and the warrior priest must have been to wear the heavy golden headdresses, the nose pieces each weighed ½ kilo, the
back plates were 1 kilo, then there were giant heavy necklaces, huge earrings with really thick back posts that went into their elongated ear lobes, pectoral necklaces made of tiny beads, shells, bone and stone. There were feather ornaments, solid gold and silver staffs and all manner of amazingly intricately decorated items.
The ceramics were incredibly designed some representing humans and others of gods and the decoration was so clear and vibrant. The gold, silver, jewels and metalwork were dazzling and the fact that they had been able to preserve and conserve the actual skeletons was incredible.
We moved from exhibit to exhibit in awe!
Unfortunately the press were also there (no idea why) and just seemed to be treating it as some jolly jaunt, taking snaps of each other posing by exhibits – now you can’t tell me that is for their paper! Luckily it was so engrossing you managed to block their existence out after the initial shock.
So we wound our way down through the pyramid and the last exhibit was the Lord of Sipan himself, amazing!
The end of the tour was a mock up with life size figures (some of
whom moved) of what the Lord of Sipan’s household would have looked like, complete with music and a dog who wagged his tale, great stuff.
It was a totally excellent experience and one which I would heartily recommend to anyone in this neck of the woods and if not here then make it a reason to come! - the claim that it rivals Tutankhamen is quite justified.
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