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SFU student digs up 1,200-year-old priestess

By Michael Mui, 24 Hours Vancouver

A Simon Fraser University student has helped unearth a 1,200-year-old tomb housing a Moche priestess of pre-Peruvian culture, part of a larger community where female religious leaders were at the highest echelons of society.

Matthew Go returned to Vancouver Sunday after having been based at the San Jose de Moro dig site since April where the tomb was uncovered in July.

The 20-year-old now plans to use his research material, pictures and notes to work on his undergraduate thesis, focusing on whether societal class in Moche culture had an impact on the spinal diseases of its people.

“The archeological evidence would suggest their religion, iconography and belief system governed everyday life,” he said.

“The society at San Jose de Moro was run by priestesses — we believe it was a generational occupation. There would be a priestess running things one generation to the next.”

The priestess was buried with seven other bodies, likely afterlife servants, and she was wearing hundreds of beads in a copper-plate adorned coffin revealing her high status, Go said.

So far, the group has recovered the remains of eight priestesses, including the latest find, spanning the warring culture’s period from 100 AD to 800 AD.

The female-led culture is also unique, said Go, a budding expert in human osteology, the study of bones, as dig sites in other valleys revealed male priests regarded in the same rank as the San Jose de Moro leaders.

The Moche culture vanished around 880 AD. It’s suspected a “mega El Nino” event, which led to an unprecedented climate change for the culture and devastated its coastal fisheries, likely caused its demise, Go said.

“I wouldn’t say this profession is for everyone, but it’s certainly not something people should be dissuaded from.”





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