Peru’s capital, Lima, has often been likened by archaeologists to an onion with countless layers of history or a treasure trove of surprises waiting to be unearthed. The gas line workers, in their digging endeavors, stumbled upon a remarkable discovery: eight pre-Inca funeral bales.
“Under the tracks and streets of Lima lie the hidden leaves of its lost history, and we are recovering them,” explained Jesus Bahamonde, an archaeologist from Calidda, the natural gas distribution company in this bustling city of 10 million residents.
Over the past 19 years, as the company expanded its gas line network, it has unearthed more than 1,900 archaeological treasures, ranging from mummies and pottery to textiles. These discoveries were primarily associated with burial sites on flat terrain.
Lima boasts over 400 larger archaeological sites known as “huacas” in the Indigenous Quechua language, scattered throughout the urban landscape. These adobe constructions are often perched on sacred hills.
The sheer number of relics uncovered is astounding, but it’s not unexpected. The area that now comprises Lima has been inhabited for over 10,000 years, first by pre-Inca civilizations, then the Inca Empire, and subsequently by the colonial culture introduced by Spanish conquerors in 1535.
Bahamonde showcased the ancient funeral bundles, which contained the remains of men wrapped in cotton cloth and bound with ropes made from lianas. These bundles were found just 30 centimeters (almost a foot) below the surface.
Archaeologists from the company believe that these finds belong to the Ichma culture, a pre-Inca civilization that emerged around A.D. 1100 and expanded across the Lima region before being integrated into the Inca Empire in the late 15th century.
One of the archaeologists, Roberto Quispe, who worked on the excavation, speculated that the funeral bundles likely contained two adults and six minors.
Occasionally, these archaeological discoveries provide glimpses into more recent history. In 2018, archaeologists in the La Flor neighborhood uncovered wooden coffins containing the remains of three Chinese immigrants who were buried in the 19th century. Alongside the bodies were opium-smoking pipes, handmade cigarettes, Chinese playing cards, a Peruvian silver coin from 1898, and a Spanish-language certificate of employment contract completion dating back to 1875, from a hacienda south of Lima.
The discovery site of the eight burial bundles was situated near braised chicken restaurants and a road leading to Peru’s sole nuclear power station.
“When the Spanish arrived in the 16th century, they encountered a thriving population across the three valleys that now constitute Lima… what we are witnessing is a profound historical continuum,” Bahamonde concluded.