Archaeologists in Peru have discovered four wood sculptures among other artefacts at the pre-Columbian city of Chan Chan. The items were found at what was a funerary platform at Chayhuac An, in northern La Libertad region.

The ancient city of Chan Chan, which means “Sun Sun”, is located north of the modern city of Trujillo. It was the largest pre-Columbian city in South America and the capital of the Kingdom of the Chimor before the Inca conquest in 1470 AD. Today the city, which was built with the use of sun-dried mud, is in danger due to heavy rains and floods.

The four wood sculptures are three male and one female figure and the other artefacts comprise a sceptre, metal vessels, textiles and remains of winkle shells.  The last sculpture has not been fully unearthed yet, with archaeologists and conservators still working to bring it to the surface. The carving is 40cm high and 20 cm wide and the figure seems to be holding a cup at chest height. The face is covered with white clay, as if it were a mask, a unique trait that hasn’t been found in similar funerary practices. What is also quite unusual is the finding of a female sculpture, which may redefine our understanding of the role of women in ancient Peru. Perhaps the sculptures were used in the graves of important social entities at the time.

Archaeologists believe that the figures were used to mark the tombs of important people, as is indicated by similar items found at the entrance of other contexts.