A pristine ‘temple of the dead’ has been uncovered in Peru

A massive royal Wari tomb has been unearthed in Peru — and it’s full of mummies and artifacts made of silver and gold. Remarkably, the 1,200 year-old site has never been touched by looters, which is a rarity as far as these things go.

Above image: A pair of heavy gold-and-silver ear ornaments featuring a winged supernatural being. Credit: National Geographic/Daniel Giannoni.

The tomb was discovered in northern Peru by Polish archaeologist Milosz Giersz and his team many months ago. But to avoid looting, they kept it a total secret. Digging quietly for months, they unearthed 63 individuals, including three Wari queens. The archaeologists suspect that some of them were human sacrifices.

A pristine ‘temple of the dead’ has been uncovered in Peru

Photo: Daniel Giannoni.

The tomb, which dates back to sometime between 700 and 1,000 A.D., contains over a thousand artifacts, including sophisticated gold and silver jewelry, bronze axes, and gold tools.

A pristine ‘temple of the dead’ has been uncovered in Peru

Photo: Milosz Giersz

The find will undoubtedly help archaeologists and anthropologists understand the life of the Wari, a vibrant civilization that lived in the Andes centuries before the rise of the Incan Empire.

National Geographic describes this "overlooked" empire:

The Wari lords have long been overshadowed by the later Inca, whose achievements were extensively documented by their Spanish conquerors. But in the 8th and 9th centuries A.D., the Wari built an empire that spanned much of present-day Peru. Their Andean capital, Huari, became one of the world's great cities. At its zenith, Huari boasted a population conservatively estimated at about 40,000 people. Paris, by comparison, had just 25,000 residents at the time.

Just how the Wari forged this empire, whether by conquest or persuasion, is a long-standing archaeological mystery. The sheer sophistication of Wari artwork has long attracted looters, who have ransacked the remains of imperial palaces and shrines. Unable to stop the destruction of vital archaeological information, researchers were left with many more questions than answers.

A pristine ‘temple of the dead’ has been uncovered in Peru

Photo: Milosz Giersz

And as for the mummies and buried treasure:

As the archaeologists carefully removed the fill, they discovered rows of human bodies buried in a seated position and wrapped in poorly preserved textiles. Nearby, in three small side chambers, were the remains of three Wari queens and many of their prized possessions, including weaving tools made of gold. "So what were these first ladies doing at the imperial court? They were weaving cloth with gold instruments," says Makowski

Other artifacts unearthed include inlaid gold and silver ear-ornaments, silver bowls, bronze ritual axes, a rare alabaster drinking cup, knives, coca leaf containers, brilliantly painted ceramics from many parts of the Andean world, and other precious objects.

A pristine ‘temple of the dead’ has been uncovered in Peru

Remains of Wari queen. Image: National Geographic.

And remarkably, this may only be the beginning. The team suspects that other chambers may exist, and that there’s still about eight to ten years of work ahead of them.

Check out the entire must-see gallery of photos at National Geographic.