/ Explores the Complex / Madam of CAO / History of discovery


In the year 2004, a peculiar funerary context was found:  a set of five tombs, of which the largest and deepest stood out.  It contained the bundle of a very important personage of the Moche elite: the Lady of Cao:

No doubt, this is an absolutely unusual fact in Peruvian archaeology, due to the biological sex of the personage, the presence of a funerary bundle unchanged for hundreds of years, its extraordinary state of conservation, and the quantity of objects associated to her death.

The tomb, which may have been constructed as of the death of the Lady toward the IV and V centuries, was found inside this ceremonial space decorated with stylized representations inherent to the Moche worldview.

The funerary bundle of the Lady of Cao was made up of three successive bundles.  The whole bundle was 181 cm long, 75 cm wide and 42 cm deep.  It weighed almost 120 kilos.  Inside the tomb, the funerary bundle of the Lady of Cao was accompanied by a male adolescent individual who died by strangling, who received a minimal funerary treatment compared to that received by the main personage.

The other four tombs contained other personages.  In Tomb 1, a personage from the elite was found, who was called “Main Priest” due to the ornaments and other objects that were found inside his bundle.  He was accompanied by a male adolescent individual who died by strangling.  Tombs 2 and 4 contained two male personages without major materials and offerings.  Tomb 5 contained bone material from various individuals.  All of these burials are at the foot of south wall, profusely decorated by schematic representations of the Peruvian catfish.


The bio-anthropological studies allowed us to know that the Lady of Cao died when she was approximately 25 years old and that her height was of 1.48 meters.  Moreover, the study of her hair allowed us to know that she consumed corn grains and seafood.

But, who was this woman?  The insignia of power that accompanied her (crowns, diadems, bludgeons, nose-pieces, ear-pieces), if they were used by the personage, would suggest her privileged status within the hierarchical composition of the Moche society of lower Chicama.

It is surprising to see the similarity between her insignia and those of personage D from the so-called «Sacrifice Ceremony», a central theme of the Moche iconography, which is also shared with the evidence coming from the Lord of Úcupe, from the neighboring valley of Jequetepeque.

In the narrative sequence of this ceremony, the blood of the executed prisoners is offered to the highest dignitary.  The archaeological research has allowed us to identify these personages in their own tombs: personage A, to whom the cup of blood is given, corresponds to the position occupied by the Lord of Sipán; personage B corresponds to the Owl Priest, also buried in Sipán; personage C corresponds to a priestess whose tomb was discovered at San José de Moro; and personage D is compared to the Lord of Úcupe and to the Lady of Cao.  Thus, we recognize his semi-divine investiture and political-religious authority.

The presence of tattoos on the body, with figures of snakes and spiders (both animals linked to the fertility of earth and water) and other elements linked to the magical-religious, suggest that the Lady dedicated herself to very deep spiritual activities associated to curanderismo (folk healing).


It is a typically Moche ceremonial enclosure from an early period, according to the art deployed in it.  It has finely decorated adornments with images from the epoch, highlighting schematic representations of fish from the sea and rivers, analogous to the images from the patio, under the Patio of Marine Friezes.  As all Mochica open spaces, it has a corner enclosure on whose walls the most notable images are depicted: anthropomorphic beings with feline traits accompanied by condors and snakes, the so-called « lunar animal », and stepped waves.