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A thousand-year-old temple complex (including a tomb with human sacrifice victims) has been found under the windswept dunes of northwestern Peru, archaeologists say.
That's because evidence at the Chotuna-Chornancap archaeological site indicates the temple complex may have belonged to people claiming to have descended from Naylamp—suggesting for the first time that these supposed descendants existed in the flesh.
The sophisticated Lambayeque culture, also known as the Sicán, were best known as skilled irrigation engineers until being conquered in A.D. 1375 by the Chimú, a civilization also based along Peru's arid northern coast.
Archaeologists have been "trying to decode the legend's mystery" for a century, said dig leader Carlos Wester La Torre, director of the Brüning National Archaeological Museum in Lambayeque. "The goal was to understand the possible relations between the oral legend and archaeological evidence."
Within the newfound temple complex is a pyramid-shaped tomb, called Huaca Norte, which was filled with the skeletons of 33 women. Two skeletons still have their original hair and some (top row) are mummified. All of them show cut marks, meaning they were likely tortured as part of human-sacrifice rituals.
The most important discovery in the thousand-year-old Lambayeque temple in Peru was the throne (pictured), thought to have been used by Naylamp's supposed descendants.
From this perch, a ruler would impose and reinforce his political, religious, and military power. The small recess in front of the throne was used for offerings, archaeologists say.
An ancient ceremonial knife called a tumi (pictured in the Brüning National Archaeological Museum) shows a Lambayeque figure sitting on a throne—just like the throne recently discovered at the Naylamp temple in Peru, archaeologists said in January 2010. These crescent-shaped knives used by the Lambayeque culture bore the likeness of a deity called the Lord of Sicán. The richly clothed figure is generally shown with winged shoulders and holding a sphere, representing the moon, and a knife, which is associated with power and sacrificial rituals, archaeologists say.
The tomb found in the newfound complex has three levels. In the third, underground level–difficult to photograph and so represented here by an illustration—women's skeletons were found in groups.