Mummy dearest

The remains of an ancient Peruvian woman give new meaning to the mummy wars.

Published May 16, 2006 8:39PM (EDT)

Just when you think it's a slow news day (see bat-eared foxes) comes a story about a female mummy recently unearthed at the El Brujo ceremonial burial site on the north coast of Peru.

According to the Associated Press, the woman's death seems to have been in about A.D. 450, and she is said to have been part of the Moche culture, which populated the area between A.D. 1 and 700. Researchers have said the woman was probably an adult "in her prime" and that Moche people were known to reach their 60s and 70s.

The mummy was buried with lots of gold and semiprecious jewelry and headdresses, an indication that she was a person of some import and wealth. The grave also contained gold sewing needles, weaving tools and raw cotton. Her arms were covered in a series of complex tattoos. Researchers can tell that the woman gave birth at least once.

But what has archaeologists excited and confused is the fact that she was also buried with a bunch of war clubs and spear throwers, weapons not typically found with female Moche mummies. "Perhaps she was a female warrior, or maybe the war clubs and spear throwers were symbols of power that were funeral gifts from men," Tulane anthropologist John Verano told the AP. No female warrior has ever been identified among the Moche graves previously discovered.

As Broadsheet reader Anna "the annalog" North commented when she forwarded this story to me: "Looks like this ancient Peruvian woman may have combined family and a career -- in ass-kicking."

By Rebecca Traister

Rebecca Traister writes for Salon. She is the author of "Big Girls Don't Cry: The Election that Changed Everything for American Women" (Free Press). Follow @rtraister on Twitter.

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