The discovery of female mummies buried with gold and weaponry has led experts to believe that Moche women may have held political and religious positions. Lady Cao, the name given to a mummy discovered at the ancient archaeological site of El Brujo in 2005, was found with a wealth of objects and elaborate tattoos over her arms and legs, suggesting she was a high-ranking Moche priestess, or even ruler.

While Quilter encourages caution in interpreting the find, as being buried with symbols of rank and power does not necessarily mean that one had power in life, he says this theory follows the tradition of Andean societies from relatively recent times where “women have had much more autonomy and power than contemporary Western women have had until very recently.”

Yet, the Moche culture is still shrouded in mystery. All the evidence points towards a successful civilization that thrived in the middle of the desert, but its sudden decline around 700 AD has left historians and archaeologists puzzled.

Some researchers believe a natural disaster such as those caused by El Niño, which continues to periodically cause severe flooding in Peru, led to the Moche’s demise.

Quilter says that though this is possible, “it is just as likely that there was a growing dissatisfaction of people regarding their leaders that made people no longer support the ‘system’ and so that ‘system’ changed, much the same as is happening today and has happened at many times and places in the past.”

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