A wooden sculpture was unearthed at Chan Chan, the capital of the Chimú Kingdom, late last month, the Peruvian cultural ministry announced in a statement. The sculpture is one of the oldest found at the site and appears to be “in a perfect state of preservation.”
Chan Chan, meaning Sun Sun, was a large adobe city spanning roughly seven and a half miles, making it one of the largest pre-Columbian sites in South America. The city included nine rectangular complexes, each with their own temples, reservoirs, cemeteries, plazas, storefronts, and elite residences.
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Having emerged in the area around 850–900 CE, the Chimú controlled 621 miles of coastline during their reign.
Recent excavations explored an area north of the main complex. Here, archaeologists uncovered the wooden sculpture depicting a ruler’s litter bearer.
Measuring at 19 by 6 inches, the figure has a flat face that was painted red and a protruding nose. The almond-shaped eyes and circular ears appear black because a preserved resin would have been used to affix mother of pearl stones to the surface.
It is wearing a trapezoid-shaped cap decorated with seven vertical bands of alternating colors and a triangle-shaped skirt also decorated with small bands along the edge and a dark color at the center. Portions of its body were at one point painted red.
Archaeologist Arturo Paredes Núñez, who serves as head of the Pecach Research, Conservation and Enhancement Unit, said in a statement, “Chimú wood carvings or sculptures are fixed or mobile. The former are documented at the entrance to some walled complexes of Chan Chan, from an uncarved segment that, when buried, fixes the carved portion of the element to the ground. The mobile sculpture lacks such an element and has frequently been documented in some huacas.”
While the team has not yet been able to date the sculpture, the form and style indicate that it is an early Chimú artifact that would have been made between 850–1470 years ago, making it one of the oldest objects found at the site so far.
Additionally, archaeologists found nectandra seeds, some of which had been threaded, suggesting that they were once part of a necklace. Underneath the sculpture, a small black bag decorated with brown and white threads was uncovered.
“The finding adds to significant evidence that ratifies the ceremonial function of a building peripheral to Chan Chan,” explained César Gálvez Mora, director of the Chan Chan Archaeological Complex Special Project.