Latin America: Moche Route

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Latin America: Moche Route

The discovery of Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamun's tomb by Howard Carter in 1922 went on to prove a major boon for the country's tourism industry. The unearthing of the Terracotta Warriors in Xian in 1974 did much the same for China.

Peru already has a major historical drawcard in the form of Machu Picchu, not to mention the ancient Nazca Lines. But the discovery of the mummies of a high ranking dignitary as well as a powerful female ruler in recent decades has shown just how historically significant Peru really is.

And it's not just the unearthing of the Lord of Sipán in 1987 and Señora de Cao in 2006 that has Latin America tour operators adding Northern Peru's Moche Route to their itineraries. This area on the country's north-western coast is in fact home to a number of pre-Incan sites of the Moche culture, who ruled it from 100AD to 800AD.

To get you started, here's the lowdown on five of the major historic sites along the way.

1. BRUNING MUSEUM

Housing an extensive collection of objects from various pre-Inca periods, this is one of Peru's most important museums, with many pieces from the Moche era. It has a variety of ceramics representing everything from powerful leaders to scenes from daily life.

The museum also features an array of intricately designed gold artefacts including necklaces, nose plugs, pendants, masks and headdresses. Rulers, noblemen and priests are believed to have worn these valuable items during state events and religious ceremonies.

2. EL BRUJO

This archaeological complex was the final resting place of Señora de Cao, who was found wrapped in an elaborate bundle, flanked by weapons and protected by four companions. Tattooed skin, glittering nose-rings, crowns and necklaces were discovered by the archaeologists after removing the 26 layers of wrapping containing the mummy, who lived around 450AD. Visitors can see her at the new Museo Cao, which is located close by.

El Brujo itself showcases the legacy of 5000 years of human occupation in the region.

3. CHAN CHAN

Spanning an area of 20 square kilometres, this is pre-Hispanic America's largest mud citadel as well as the capital of the ancient Chimú Empire (700AD to 1400AD). Located on the banks of the Moche River, the city was the urban centre of a vast regional state that covered half of the Peruvian coast.

The complex is made up of many cities within a city. Building structures included residences, administrative buildings and temples, while walls were decorated with friezes containing geometric and animal figures.

4. HUACA DEL SOY Y HUACA DE LA LUNA

The Temple of the Sun and the Temple of the Moon, as they are translated, are pyramids located 500 metres away from each other. They were built for ceremonial purposes around 500AD and this archaeological site was the centre of power for the Moche people.

The Temple of the Sun served as an administrative and political centre, while the Temple of the Moon was built for more gruesome purposes. On its walls are images of the Moche divinity known as Ai-Apaec (slaughterer god), and it's thought that human sacrifices were conducted here.

5. THE ROYAL TOMBS OF SIPAN MUSEUM

In 1987, within the grounds of the Sipán Archaeological Complex, a team of archaeologists found the well-preserved remains of the Lord of Sipán, who was a powerful warlord among the Moche people. He was buried in the fourth century AD - his nose and ears covered with gold relics and his feet clad in silver. Buried with him were women, children and llamas.

The Royal Tombs of the Lord of Sipán have enabled archaeologists to piece together much of the history of this civilisation, and the treasures of the Lord of Sipán are now on display at the museum.