By Rubén H. Buitron Picharde
Wiese Foundation| El Brujo Archaeological Complex.
Head of Laboratory

Most people are amazed by the objects and the knowledge achieved by our ancestors, especially those related to death, such as mummies and funerary bundles.  Indeed, they are repositories of memory and knowledge about life and death in past epochs.

Bundling is a tradition that has a very distant background.  It has been possible to report its presence and complexity in the various pre-Hispanic periods.  The most important archaeological find at the El Brujo Archaeological Complex (CAEB), the Lady of Cao, was also found inside a great funerary bundle from the Moche epoch.

However, contrary to common belief, the great majority of funerary bundles from CAEB are not Moche (Early Intermediate period, 100-800 AD) but, rather, from the Lambayeque epoch (800-1375 AD).  After the collapse of the Moche society, around 700 AD, Huaca Cao was reused as a cemetery.  The berm that covered the north façade of the temple was reused by niches where bundles were placed, along with foods, vases and other artifacts.

Currently, CAEB’s archaeological collection features 142 duly identified funerary bundles, of which 95% belong to the Lambayeque epoch.  The characteristics of these bundles are quite complex and intriguing, as they have attributes that are different from their peers of the Central and South Coast, marking their own local production style with subtle differences among them, directly linked to purchasing levels, sex, productive activity, etc.

How were the Lambayeque funerary bundles from El Brujo made?

Death in the pre-Hispanic epoch was not simple.  It implied a deployment of processes such as the preparation of the body of the dead individual, obtaining the wrapping for the cadaver and accessories, the preparation and collection of offerings, the construction of the funerary structure, the rituals and the mourning or impact generated by the absence of a member of society.

Regarding the preparation of the bundles, we have been able to pinpoint the fact that there is a general treatment with variations in the supplies and accessories:

– Preparing the individual.  The majority of individuals are in a sitting and flexed position.  This position is reinforced by cotton cords that hold the ankles and arms.  Metal plates were placed inside their mouths and/or the face area.  Then, they covered it with cotton pads without seeds.

– Placing the wrapping.  The preparation of the funerary bundle consisted in covering the individual with cotton textiles.  They started by covering the head and then the rest of the body.  In order to prevent the fabrics from detaching, a group of cotton cords tightened the bundle at the level of the neck and thorax.  This process of covering the individual is done several times, thus increasing the size and volume of the bundle.  During this process, it was possible to include some special elements, such as vegetables, artifacts, etc.

– Placing the accessories.  Once the wrappings have been placed, the treatment is completed with the placement of the different accessories.  One of the most common procedures is the application of red and yellow pigment in the “face” area of the bundle.  We have also noted the presence of masks, wigs, crowns and turbans.  Finally, the bundles were dressed with garments typical of the epoch.  The objective is that the bundle resemble a human shape as much as possible.

The Lambayeque bundles from El Brujo had clothing?

Indeed, it has been noted that 61% of the collection of Lambayeque funerary bundles from El Brujo have clothing.  This is due to the importance that the attire had in pre-Hispanic epoch, beyond merely covering the body.  The bundles wear unkus (a garment with vertical openings) or anakus (a garment with horizontal openings), according to the case.  This type of garment has been linked to the sex of the individual (Aponte, 2000; Prümers, 1998); thus, the unku belongs to men, while the anaku belongs to women.

How were the unku and anaku?

The manufacture of these garments is quite interesting and simple.  The unku has vertical openings for the arms and neck, while the anaku has horizontal openings for the arms and neck.

Although the garments may suggest the biological sex of the personage, it is not a determining factor.  Anthropological studies must be conducted to confirm this relationship.  However, we can assert, indeed, that the Lambayeque bundle at the CAEB is one of the most complex and stylistically virtuous in the Andes.

Hence, and as part of the work in terms of research, conservation and dissemination, the Wiese Foundation organizes on the first Sunday of each month the workshop “The Lambayeque funerary bundles from El Brujo”, where the participants will have the opportunity to visit the laboratories and storerooms, guided by the specialists, and also reproduce the bundling techniques with recycled supplies.  The event is intended for the public in general.