Elite Wari craftsman with rare jewelry and tools found at Peruvian site

The intact 1,300-year-old tomb of an elite Wari craftsman was recently discovered in the famous archaeological complex of Huarmey Castle in Peru. It is “unique” because it belonged to a craftsman, and alongside the usual gold and silver, the burial contained rare Wari bronze trade tools.

The elite craftsman Wari: an “incredible and important” discovery

Between 600 and 1000 AD, the central and southern Andean highlands supported two cultures named after their respective imperial capitals. The Tiahuanaco (Tiwanaku) culture was centered around the edge of Lake Titicaca in what is now northwestern Bolivia, while the Huari (Wari) cultures revolved around the modern city of Ayacucho in present-day Peru.

Polish archaeologists recently discovered the thousand-year-old tomb of an elite Wari craftsman, which they believe tells us a lot more about the craftsmen of ancient Peru. According to Peruvian media, the discoverers call this tomb and its contents “incredible and important” because it contained the remains of a craftsman who is now known as the “Lord of Huarmey”. Not only was this Wari elite buried with gold and silver jewelry, but also with the tools of their trade.

An aerial view of the ancient Wari culture citadel of El Castillo (castle) of Huarmey, where a Polish archaeological team recently found the tomb of an elite Wari craftsman along with rare grave goods. ( Milosz Giersz / Faculty of Archaeology, University of Warsaw )

Dig deep into the Wari culture

The tomb was found at the El Castillo de Huarmey pyramid, or “the castle on the Huarmey river”. This archaeological site is located on the Peruvian Pacific coast in the region of Ancash, about 290 kilometers (180 miles) north of Lima, in the suburbs of the city of Huarmey. The discovery team was led by archaeologist Milosz Giersz, a professor at the University of Warsaw, who told DW the grave belongs to “an elite Wari craftsman who was buried with gold and silver outfits”.

The archaeological site of the Château de Huarmey is famous for its Wari mausoleum. In 2021, a team of Polish and Peruvian archaeologists dug 6 meters (19.68 feet) into this burial complex and found the 1,300-year-old tomb which evidence revealed belonged to a craftsman, the so – Calling lord of Huarmey.

His role in life was identified by the trade tools discovered in his tomb, which included “axes, knives and baskets”. And its elite status was reaffirmed with the inclusion of “turquoise, gold and silver earmuffs, beautiful wooden figures and a magnificent gold jewel constructed with semi-precious stones”.

The Polish team of Dr. Milosz Giersz found these Wari earrings or earmuffs at the site of Huarmey, where the tomb of the elite Wari craftsman was recently discovered.  (Archaeology of Peru)

The Polish team of Dr. Milosz Giersz found these Wari earrings or earmuffs at the site of Huarmey, where the tomb of the elite Wari craftsman was recently discovered. ( Archeology of Peru )

Artifacts rarely seen in the world

Dr. Giersz explained that Huarmey Castle is a series of multi-storey burial towers atop a rocky outcrop. And he added that this ancient necropolis was where “the highest ancestors of the Wari imperial elite were revered”. This means that groups of people gathered and stoned each other on bizarre jungle juices, which were closely associated with ancient ancestor worship.

According to an article published in the journal Antiquity, visitors to another 1,200-year-old Wari town known today as Quilcapampa were given “psychoactive substances by the elites to keep people loyal”. Archaeologists identified 16 vilca seeds that can be transformed into a powerful psychoactive hallucinogenic substance. Being heavily and inevitably stoned, the Wari would have interpreted this as “a spiritual experience”.

Study co-author Matthew Biwer, a visiting assistant professor of anthropology and archeology at Dickinson College, Pennsylvania, said the shared mind-altering experience “helped the elite win the loyalty of members of Community This was an important part of creating social bonds between Wari hosts and local guests.

Schinus Mole samples discovered in Quilcapampa in Peru, which were used by people of the Wari culture to make an alcoholic drink. (Lisa Milosavljevic & Royal Ontario Museum / Antiquity Publications Ltd )

Not power for the people, but power over the people.

Drug use and ancestor worship were religious practices based on community-wide beliefs that deceased family members can offer divine protection to the community of worshippers. Ancestor spirits were thought to protect against droughts, floods and disease, but what their cult really achieved was to solidify elite power and social control over the expanding Wari populations.

Long before the rise of the Inca Empire, Wari chiefs would unify and systematize local textile production, animal husbandry, and artifact production. And to ensure that all profits would reach the peak, ancestor worship, such as that practiced at Huarmey Castle, cemented loyalty to elite landowning families across the Wari Empire.

The recently discovered elite Wari craftsman not only belonged to the Wari ruling class, but he helped build the empire with both of his highly skilled hands.

Top image: At Huarmey Castle in Peru, Polish archaeologists, led by Dr Milosz Giersz, found the pre-Hispanic tomb of an elite Wari craftsman with rare grave goods including jewelry and tools (the photographs of these have not been published yet). Advanced metal artifacts like those in this main image have already been found by Giersz’s team in Huarmey. Source: Milosz Giersz / Faculty of Archaeology, University of Warsaw

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