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Moche Woman Who Broke Ancient Glass Ceiling

The Moche did not embalm their dead like the ancient Egyptians, but that did not stop a 1,600-year-old woman’s remains from being preserved. This mummy, which was unearthed in Peru in 2006, could have been a warrior queen of the Moche people. She was discovered at a ceremonial site called El Brujo, on the north coast of Peru.

Based on elaborate male burials and iconography, common thought is that the Moche were ruled by men, making this elite burial for a woman quite unusual. The tattoos on the mummy’s arm include snakes and spiders, creatures linked to agricultural rites. "Maybe she predicted bumper crops or harvest failures," says archaeologist Régulo Franco, whose work at El Brujo was supported by a National Geographic Society grant.

"Based on our preliminary study, we think she was a ruler," says Franco. Whatever the cause of death, and whoever this 20-something was—queen, princess, priestess, or warrior princess—her life challenges the idea that all Moche leaders were men.

Text Source: Williams, A.R. (2006, June). "Mystery of the Tattooed Mummy." National Geographic, 209(6), 70-83.
Photograph by:
  • Ira Block/National Geographic Creative