The Necropolis of Ancon in Peru. The Empire of the Incas.

Necropolis, Ancon, Peru, Inca, Empire, Reiss, Stübel,
The Necropolis of Ancon in Peru. A Contribution to our Knowledge of the Culture and Industries of the Empire of the Incas.





In the recent history of Peru Ancon plays a no inconsiderable part. Here Cochrane 1) concealed his fleet, and here Santamaria landed his troops to free the country from the Spanish yoke. The importance this seaboard must have had before the arrival of the Spaniards is shown by its extensive burial-places. But at the time of the Conquest Ancon seems to have already been abandoned. Although several of the early expeditions passed this way, no special mention of the district occurs in any report, nor has a single name in the old local tongue been perpetuated.

1) Thomas Cochrane, 10th Earl of Dundonald GCB (1775-1860) was a British naval hero, politician, freedom fighter and inventor.

On this barren rainless coast low rocky spurs of the Cordilleras project seawards. But their narrow rugged headlands enclose few sheltered havens, so that a safe inlet, such as that of Ancon, even at a time when navigation was limited to a coasting trade, must have already formed a familiar harbour of refuge for fishermen. The blocks detached from the cliffs become ground down by the fierce surf, and reduced to fine sand together with the shells cast up by the waves. The almost constantly prevailing sea breeze blows the loose sand on the slop of the hills to a considerable height, filling with shifting dunes the bays stretching inland. In such a bay some 22 miles north of Lima lies the Ancon Necropolis, burial-place of many generations.

This graveyard was long known, and already even partly plundered by treasure-seekers, before it was rendered accessible by the construction of a railway, and before the establishment of a small watering place had attracted general attention to the spot. Vessels setting sail in ballast had often shipped with the sand mummies and various objects from the graves, and in this way not a few articles had reached Europe. In the following pages are exhibited the results of the first systematic examination of the Necropolis carried out in the year 1875.

The Plates of the first Part have been executed by the landscape painter J. Fiebiger of Dresden from the drawings taken on the spot by A. Stübel.

The Plates of the first volume give a general picture of the Necropolis. They convey a detailed knowledge of the method of burial customary at Ancon, at the same time showing how the various objects, which are specially illustrated in the second and third volume, were obtained from the graves.

A plan and several views display the characteristic scenery surrounding the Necropolis. To this is naturally appended, as the second division of the volume, the study of the graves opened during the excavations — their arrangement as well as the disposition of the bodies contained in them, the diverse treatment of which is best shown by grouping a number of sections together.

The third and more essential part of this volume is devoted to the dead themselves, and to their style of equipment, hitherto observed in no other place. The fourth part exhibits sundry objects serving to decorate the graves, and the parting gifts in their peculiar coverings.


I. The Necropolis and Neighbourhood – Plates 1—4
II. The several Graves – Plates 5—10
III. The Mummies and their various equipments – Plates 11-30
IV. Decorations of the Graves – Plates 31-34a


I. The Necropolis and its Graves.

(Plates 1—34a.)

I. The Necropolis and Neighbourhood.

Plate. 1. Plan of Ancon and neighbouring Necropolis The Bay of Ancon.
Plate. 2. The Necropolis of Ancon.
Plate. 3. The terraced hills South of Ancon.
Plate. 4. The northern Part of Ancon Bay and the millstones of the Necropolis.

II. The Several Graves.

Plate. 5. The deep grave of the false-headed Mummies.
Plate. 6. Exposed graves with Mummies of simple type.
Plate. 7. Solitary grave of a simple equipped Mummies.
Plate. 8. Interments under earthenware vessels.
Plate. 9. Interments under fragments of earthenware.
Plate. 10. Sections of the graves.

III. The Mummies in their diverse equipment.

a. False-headed Mummies.

Plate 11. Large Mummy with false head.
Plate 12. Front and back view of the false head of the Mummy figured on Plate 11.
Plate 13. Side view of the Mummy figured on Plates 11 and 12.
Plate 14. Two Mummies from one Grave.
Plate 15. Front and back view of a Mummy with a false head and funeral accompaniments.
Plate 16. Sumptuous Mummy Pack.
Plate 17. Side view and section of the Mummy figured on Plate 16.
Plate 18. Mummies with wig and ear ornaments.
Plate 19. Method of packing the false-headed Mummies.
Plate 20. Method of packing the false-headed Mummies (continued).
Plate 21. False heads of the Mummy packing.
Plate 21a. Wigs of the false heads.

b. Simply equipped Mummies.

Plate 22. A Mummy richly arrayed.
Plate 23. Front and back view of a Mummy with weaving implements.
Plate 24. Simple Mummies in coloured striped cerements.
Plate 25. Poorly equipped Mummy.
Plate 26. Poorly equipped Mummies.
Plate 27. Two simply equipped Mummies diversely packed.

c. Mummies of Children and Details.

Plate 28. Mummies of Children.
Plate 29. Infant Mummies. — Tattooed and painted limbs.
Plate 30. Decoration of the body. — Section of a simple Mummy.

IV. Decoration of the Graves.

Plate 31. Bannerlike Decorations.
Plate 32. Thread-wound rods; Crosses and sepulchral Tablets.
Plate 33. Painted sepulchral Tablets.
Plate 33a. Painted sepulchral Tablets (continued).
Plate 34. Sepulchral deposits.
Plate 34a. Animals as sepulchral Offerings. — Matting used at Burials.


(PLATE 1-4)


Plate 1. Plan of Ancon and neighbouring Necropolis.
Plate 2. The Bay of Ancon I.
Plate 2. The Necropolis of Ancon I.
Plate 3. The terraced hills South of Ancon.
Plate 4. The northern part of Ancon Bay and the millstones of the Necropolis.

Introduction to the first volume.

At the beginning of the sixteenth Century there existed in South America two civilised States at the height of their prosperity. Both had their origin and seat on the uplands of the Cordilleras which traverse the whole Continent; both had been developed in the temperate, almost cold climate of the higher alpine regions. Such were the Chibcha State in the north, and that of the Incas in the south, which differed at once in the extent of their respective domains. While in the north, that is, the present Colombia, the civilised area was restricted to a relatively small district on the upland plateaux and valleys of Bogota and Tunja, the empire of the Incas reached far and wide, embracing the present Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia and a considerable portion of north Chile, and extending its sway on the one hand to the barren Pacific coastlands, on the other to the hot region of primeval forest on the east slope of the Andes.

Our knowledge of the Chibcha culture is but slight. No important architectural monuments have survived from pre-Columbian times, and but meagre reports have reached us even from the early period of the Conquest. The case is very different with Peru. This vast, well-ordered State, with its imposing monumental works and highly developed industries, excited the wonder of the Conquerors and their successors, who have handed down to us in detailed accounts and descriptions both the history of the Incas and their own observations on the state of the land. Much legendary matter and many fanciful exaggerations have doubtless been presented and accepted either as historic truth, or at least as conscientious relations. And although the long-standing and almost lavish glorification of the Inca state, as disclosed in the reports of the Spanish archives, must yield to more modest estimates, still the conditions have thereby been brought more home to us, and thus rendered more intelligible.

But even in the case of the ancient Inca state, at present one territory alone still bears in its numerous monuments eloquent witness to the high pitch of Culture, which in the course of many ages had here acquired a peculiar and independent development. This territory is the ancient land of Peru, whilom the special seat of Inca rule. Ruins of grandly-conceived buildings occur in many parts of the present Peru, the most noteworthy however on the extensive upland plateau now shared between the republics of Peru and Bolivia. All these structures and works in stone reveal perseverance in heavy manual labour and an educated taste for architecture, combined with skill in the treatment of the material employed.

But, for our knowledge of the contemporary culture of more far-reaching importance has been the discovery of numerous objects, which as industrial products belonged to the domestic economy of those peoples. All these objects have been excellently preserved, a fact due to the scarcely accidental coincidence of two circumstances — climate and worship of the dead. To the dry climate, restricted as it was to a narrow strip of the Peruvian seaboard, we are primarily indebted for the fact, that the rich contents of piously equipped graves have in manifold instances reached us uninjured, and that consequently the picture of a culture speedily swept away by the Spanish conquerors may still be restored with a certain relative fulness.

To such sepulchral finds the present work is devoted, finds which, unlike the monumental buildings, being concealed below the surface had till now escaped the customary treatment of the dead, but also carry us back to the busy life and inner soul of the ancient Indian populations. At the same time this scope of the work is so far limited, that it comprises only a faithful reproduction and description of objects brought to light in a single Peruvian burial-place, although certainly one of great extent — the Ancon Necropolis.

The ancient Inca domain embraced lands of the most diverse climates and productiveness. The climatic extremes lie between a cold highland region inhabited to a height of over 13,000 feet, and a hot seaboard washed by the waves of the Pacific Ocean. The true home of the Incas were the uplands, where are found the remains of the great stone structures, whereas the lowlands were not incorporated in their empire till later times. The buildings of these lowlands, mostly of adobe, cannot compare with the stone edifices of the plateau. But this inferiority is compensated by the rich contents of their graveyards, comprising all the perishable articles of daily use, which could not resist the damp climate of the higher regions. For along the coast all is bare and arid, from Tumbez southwards far into the present Chile for a due to the influence of the oceanic currents and meteorological peculiarities acting in combination with the relief of the land. Above this narrow but still varying strip of coastlands tower the Andean Cordilleras, their spurs projecting here and there seawards, elsewhere forming advanced ridges of bare dark rocks, which contrast sharply with the bright seasands filling the broad bights and often heaped up in shifting dunes.

Rushing mountain streams bedded in wide valleys descend from the Cordilleras coastwards, the larger rivers alone reaching the sea, while most of the others run out in the porous soil. Along the windings of the former is unfolded a luxuriant vegetation; for wherever fresh water is available the sandy ground displays great fertility, the steep slope of the riverbeds at the same time facilitating artificial irrigation. The green bottom lands appear like oases in the wilderness, severed from each other by waterless tracts, the necessity of traversing which enhances the dangers and hardships of the desert life.

At present these oases form a centre of the sugar industry, are well cultivated but thinly peopled. Before the Spanish invasion they supported a large population, as certified by the reports of the old Chroniclers, and attested by the extensive spaces strewn with ruins, by the burial grounds, the terraced lands and aqueducts planned for agricultural purposes.

Here dwelt under local rulers small tribes and peoples, either independently or grouped in larger communities. Long before their reduction by the Incas they had developed a considerable culture. Each civilising centre, itself closely dependent on the fertility of the soil, became at the same time a sacred seat of religion, such as Chimu, the present Trujillo and the Pachacámac valley had once been and under the sway of the Incas still continued to be. The Incas had found it an easy task to incorporate in their extensive dominions these warlike but still feeble inhabitants of the coast. The culture, which they here found already deep-rooted, explains how the short interval of scarcely 150 years sufficed, with many traditional customs and usages, to naturalise the laws and even the religious rites of the Inca empire, and to make the several tribes appear as members of a single state.

For the inhabitants of the hot coastlands as well as of the cold uplands, the natives of Cuzco and Quito, and thence southwards to Chile, all belonged to one race. This racial homogeneousness also conditioned a certain uniformity in the development of their culture. At the same time it would be a mistake to regard the beginning of this culture among the reduced peoples as the exclusive merit of the Inca rule. Certain peculiarities in habits, dress and industrial products still doubtless lived on in the various tribes even after their reduction, just as different districts were noted for special artistic objects, giving rise to an interchange of local commodities.

Settlements had been made not only in the large fertile oases, but also in other tracts less favoured by nature. Amongst the latter was the Bay of Ancon lying 24 miles to the north of Callao, but whose old Indian name has long been forgotten. A broad valley opens on the bay, although the plain is watered by no fertilising stream. In vain the eye seeks the repose of refreshing verdure on this arid shore, which nevertheless was once inhabited, as shown by its extensive cemetery and the terrace-works of the encircling hills. It is obvious, however, that here dwelt a poor population, whose settlement was of slight importance, and which could probably at no time point to any great monuments. But just as the overwhelmed and again recovered Pompeii gives us a clearer insight into the domestic life of classical antiquity than the ruins of far more historically momentous places, Ancon also is destined at least for a long time to remain the most important storehouse for our knowledge of the old Peruvian culture. The great cities of Peru have been overthrown, her burial-places rifled, sites renowned in history consigned to oblivion. But thanks to its secluded position in a desert district, the Ancon Necropolis long escaped the notice of greedy treasure-hunters, while the salt-charged soil combined with a rainless climate happily retained in good condition the rich stores committed to the earth.

All fixed landmarks are lacking that might determine the age of the Ancon graves, or roughly limit the period to which they belong. Many of these graves contain not one only, but frequently two or three bodies, and in isolated cases quite a group, disposed either side by side or one above the other. Doubtless most of the pits clearly show that the same grave was utilised at different times; yet others again are not lacking, which leave no room for doubting that the bodies found in them were deposited contemporaneously.

This practise of burial in common, as well as the circumstance that in previous years the Ancon Necropolis had already been extensively ransacked, renders it almost impossible even approximately to estimate the whole number of bodies that had been interred in this arid soil. They may however be calculated at several thousand. Such a large number may doubtless cause surprise; for in the absence of water and vegetation, a large population might appear to be altogether excluded, but for the neighbouring bay, which abounding in fish might have supplied the inhabitants with a large portion of their sustenance.

The circumstance however may be explained simply enough by the very obvious assumption that for many generations a small community here found its last resting- place, hence that the graves belong to different periods, and that besides those of more recent date there are others, which must be referred to a far more remote time, possibly dating hundreds of years further back. Whether interments here took place even after the Spanish Conquest of the land has not yet been shown. This however might well be the case, were the origin strictly authenticated of the few objects of European manufacture, which are supposed to have been taken from the Ancon graves.

Even at an early period solitary sepulchral finds from various parts of Peru had already been figured by travellers and collectors in scientific works, or deposited in European museums, mostly with incorrect statements regarding their provenance. But Tschudi and Rivero’s valuable work published in the middle of the present century (19th century), was the first to impart to a wider circle of students a more detailed account of the available materials, thereby greatly stimulating the “collecting mania” of Euro- pean travellers, as well as of some opulent natives.

In accordance with the expansion acquired in recent times by ethnological studies, the prehistoric relations in Peru also attracted increasing attention. Our public collections, foremost amongst which the Berlin ethnological Museum, possess a considerable number of Peruvian antiquities. More thorough and comprehensive works have also appeared. Thus Squier has published an excellent account of his researches on the ancient Peruvian buildings, while Charles Wiener has recently attempted in a richly illustrated volume to combine his own observations with the hitherto ascertained facts in a general picture of ancient Peruvian culture.

Unfortunately the value of his work is materially lessened by the untrustworthy character of the details, by the arbitrary designation of the ethnical types and landscapes, prepared mostly from familiar photographs, as well as by the almost completely erroneous indication of the provenance of the earthenware figured in the volume.

However valuable in other respects may be the works hitherto published, none of them except Squier’s contain much more than the results of hasty journeys, representations of specially remarkable finds, or summaries of historical studies. Not a single ruined city or burial-place had ever been opened up and turned to account for scientific purposes. The work herewith presented to the public must accordingly be regarded as a first attempt in this direction.

The finds here figured are the result of the exhumations carried out under the direction of the authors, during a residence of several mouths at Ancon in the year 1875. They afford an insight into the domestic relations of the ancient Indian population; they enable us to draw conclusions respecting their private and public life, the prevalent views and artistic skill, the bent of taste and colour sense of those times. Associated in Peru with the worship of the dead were all objects of daily use — garments and personal ornaments, weapons and badges of distinction, tools, earthenware in the most manifold forms, toys, articles of the toilet and provisions their owners to the grave. Over and above all this, in Ancon a method of interment was discovered hitherto elsewhere unknown in any part of Peru, thanks to which a large number of artistic costumes and richly coloured textile fabrics have been preserved.

The objects brought to light in Ancon are of themselves alone suggestive of manifold reflections. But a detailed monographic treatment of the locality was all the more urgently demanded, that the hope of other burial-places being revealed grows less from year to year. Should however such sites be discovered in other parts of Peru, and the labour not be grudged of an exhaustive survey, this monograph would then indeed completely answer its purpose, affording a basis for a comparative study which might lead to many general inferences on the mutual relations of the ancient Peruvians. But it was above all imperative to supply authentic materials, in order to prepare the way for the future solution of many still moot points, and place in a clear light the data, on which our knowledge of the evolution of South American culture must be firmly grounded and removed as far as possible from the field of conjecture. With this view the authors have confined themselves to the faithful reproduction of the objects collected by themselves, thus excluding all doubt regarding the authenticity of the materials here figured. The Plates are intended to reproduce the sepulchral finds with the greatest accuracy, the accompanying text merely offering short explanations of the objects themselves.

The work comprises as complete a presentation as possible of the dead equipped in mummy fashion, of the garments, the various textiles and their patterns. To these are added in less detail the clay, metal, wooden and other objects. The work concludes with the scientific sections executed by Professor Dr. L. Wittmack, Professor R. Virchow M. D. L. L. D. F. R. S. and Professor Dr. A. Nehring. These sections shed fresh light on the alimentary plants cultivated or introduced into Ancon; they also deal with the cranial types of the inhabitants of Ancon, and the various breeds of domestic animals. It is incumbent on us to express our heartfelt thanks to these gentlemen for contributions, which add so much to the thoroughness of the work.

The collection as a whole has passed into the possession of the Royal Ethnological Museum, Berlin, while the duplicates have been consigned to the Museums of Leipzig, Dresden and Karlsruhe.

For the excellent execution and general finish of the work we are deeply indebted to the painters, whose names are mentioned in the several Divisions, to the lithographic Institute and the publishers.

Berlin, March 1887. The Authors.