The research work that the Wiese Foundation has conducted in the El Brujo Archaeological Complex since 1991 was mainly focused on the Huaca Cao Viejo, a monumental testimony of the Moche epoch (100-800 A.D.) with further occupations in later epochs.

One of the most important discoveries made at the Huaca Cao Viejo, between 2004 and 2005, was the finding of the burial context of the Lady of Cao, comprising five tombs and at least seven individuals. The Lady was wrapped in a funerary bundle and had been placed at the bottom of Tomb 3. She was buried next to a young individual who had died from strangulation. However, if there was a personage at the second level of the hierarchy, according to the complexity of their funerary paraphernalia and dedication in the burial event, it is undoubtedly an individual called “Main Priest”, a male individual who may have died between the ages of 25 and 30.

Buried in Tomb 1, he was wrapped in a funerary bundle and placed 1.2 m deep. Tombs 2, 4 and 5 were found next to his, lined up on either side, containing personages, probably lower in the hierarchy, that were not wrapped in mortuary bundles.

His funerary bundle was made of fine fabric and various offerings. Prominent inside the bundle, there was a vest and a back cover, both elements composed of different materials displaying images with a high symbolic content. The vest has two cloths, one anterior and one posterior, that covered the chest and back of the personage. They are both based on a plain fabric with a leather layer, onto whose inner side triangular metal plates with a depiction of the lunar animal were sewn. The Peruvian catfish appears as the end of the crest and tail of the feline personage. Moreover, feathers were left in the interstices of the plates of gilded copper.

Moreover, the officiant in these scenes used to wear a vest lined with plates, such as the one previously mentioned, and held a pouch inside of which there was a gourd, an instrument used for the consumption of coca leaves; it is worth pointing out that the individual is never seen consuming them. The personage always appears accompanied by two or three persons, undoubtedly from the Moche elite, laid out in the sitting position, who were consuming the sacred leaf.

It is important to point out that inside the tomb a sculpted bottle was found which depicted an individual using a gourd while he chews coca leaves. This association of objects suggests, then, that the individual wrapped in the funerary bundle participated in key rites of the Mochica religion.

Thus, the analyses conducted on the teeth of the “Priest” showed the irregular wear of the dental enamel and the presence of mouth diseases. Both conditions would be closely connected to the continuous chewing the coca leaves and to the effect of its alkaloids. Nonetheless, more detailed studies should allow to clarify these first inferences.

In all the depictions, the use of the back cover and the consumption of coca are the outstanding traits of the praying rite that was conducted under the two-headed snake, a symbol of the Milky Way, according to some researchers. In that sense, the “Main Priest” of the Huaca Cao Viejo would have been a specialist in interpreting celestial signs, which is one of the activities that guaranteed the continuity of the order in the Moche society.

In 2017, the Wiese Foundation undertook the project of reconstructing the face of this personage with a known role, according to the archaeological evidence. The process implied the tridimensional scanning of the scull of the priest and the digitized modeling of his physical traits based on the forensic procedures, obtaining a high degree of precision regarding the shape and traits of his face. After the 3D print of the priest’s bust, the finishes (skin, hair and eye color) were worked out based on the ethnological information for the region and the photos taken in the neighboring community of the El Brujo Archaeological Complex.

This year, within the framework of the Vth International Colloquium on Archaeology, organized by the Wiese Foundation, the unveiling of the face of the Main Priest of the Huaca Cao Viejo will be carried out with the reproduction of his ritual attire. Undoubtedly, this will be an opportunity to come closer to the history and life of one of the persons highest up in the hierarchy in the Moche society, approximately 1,700 years ago.

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  • List of Figures
  • Figure 1. The Huaca Cao Viejo in the El Brujo Archaeological Complex.
  • Figure 2. The decorated enclosure of the Huaca Cao Viejo, place of the finding of the Lady of Cao and the Main Priest.
  • Figure 3. The back cover found on the thorax of the Main Priest.
  • Figure 4. Detail of the back cover.
  • Figure 5. Reconstruction of the anterior side of the vest found inside the funerary bundle of the Main Priest. Note the figures of the lunar animal elaborated based on metal plates.
  • Figure 6. Scene from the ceremony of prayers to the celestial entities. Note the position and the ritual paraphernalia of the officiant. Taken from Kutscher 1983: Fig. 125.
  • Figure 7. Moche-style bottle discovered in the tomb of the Main Priest. This is the figure of an attired individual using a gourd for consuming coca leaves.