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One of the recent amazing discoveries in the world of archaeology is the Lady of Cao, also known as the Senora of Cao; a mummy found in Peru. What is interesting is that she is a mummy who has never been mummified.
Buried in the northern coast of Peru, on-site in the city of El Brujo was the Lady of Cao. Who she was, what was her name, all such questions still remain a mystery. Some things which we do know about her and her culture have played a key role in changing the view of the world and civilization, both prehistoric and modern.
Everything You Need to Know About Lady of Cao
The Lady of Cao was unearthed in 2006. She was unearthed along with many jewellery, weapons and other artefacts. She was found in the primary Moche archaeological sites.
She belonged to one of the pre-Incan civilizations known as the Moche civilization. Not much is known about this civilization or culture, but archaeologists are trying day and night to gain more information about it. Lady of Cao has helped archaeologists in this quest.
The Moche people were a civilization which flourished along the northern coast of Peru from around 100 AD to 700 AD. They were primarily an agricultural society. They also had great craftsmanship which can be seen in their pottery and jewellery. In terms of religion, it is speculated that the Moche believed in divinity, and nature but did not have a specific deity of any sort.
It is believed that the Moche were not a monolithic state or a proper empire. Rather, they were a group of people or tribes one could say, who share the same culture and had a separate political structure. These tribes lived in northern Peru.
The Moche were very vivacious people. The iconographies, the ceramics, the pottery, and the stories depicted on the walls of their temples, all show a great deal of violence, and vibrant cultures and rituals. The primary archaeologist at first had a hard time believing that these people lived such lives.
According to what can be deduced about the culture, the Moche people part took in sex, violence, and sacrifices. They celebrated life and nature and gave equal importance to life and death.
The first Moche mummy found was the Lord of Sipan. So, naturally, it was assumed that the Moche culture was a male-dominated society or patriarchal society, but with the discovery of Lady of Cao, these assumptions have been debunked.
The Moche is also a peculiar society in the terms that their Iconography, pottery and other aspects were quite developed but, one thing is significantly missing from their civilization. Unlike other known civilisations, they have no written records.
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Lady of Cao
Now that we do know about which civilization Lady of Cao comes from, much could be inferred about her and the position she might have held in her society.
The burial site of the Lady of Cao was the Huaca el brujo. Huaca el Brujo sacred burial site is also known as the hill of Wizard. Huaca el brujo was a surprise for all archaeologists as it was assumed that only men were buried there; finding a female mummy was never expected.
She is estimated to have lived around 450 CE, and she died in her mid-twenties. It has been confirmed that she died during childbirth due to various complications. However, what exactly happened can not be determined. From the pelvic bone structure, we can infer that she died 48 hours into the labour.
What happened to her child is unclear. It could have been born and lived on, or it could have died while labour was ongoing and been a stillborn baby.
Lady of Cao was buried with jewellery, gold, silver and gilded copper. The different pieces of jewellery tell us that she might have been a high-ranking person in society. Since the Moche culture did not purposefully mummify their dead, it is assumed the Lady of Cao was a special case.
What is more of a mystery about the Lady of Cao is that she was highly tattooed. Her skin had tattoos of different animals, including serpents, scorpions, and crabs, all of which are related to divinity for the Moche culture. So from that, the Archeologist deduced that she might have been a high priestess queen. It is speculated that she ruled over the Chicama valley, in ancient Peru.
Buried with her on the burial site was another young lady. Presumed to be a human sacrifice, the young lady had been buried along with the Lady of Cao. We already know that the Lady of Cao died due to complication in childbirth. The human sacrifice buried with her was strangled, from what the archaeologists could find.
This had clearly changed the outlook of a male ruled Moche society. In subsequent years, as many as eight other priestess queens’ remains have been unearthed from the Moche burial sites.
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The Reconstruction of Lady of Cao
Lady of Cao was recently reconstructed in 2017 using the same technology which is used for creating sketches and faces in police reports.
Many archaeologists, forensic archaeologists, forensic scientists and computer experts were brought in. They carefully followed specific steps for constructing what Lady of Cao may have looked like. This was particularly hard as the Lady of Cao had never been properly mummified, so decay took place. The dry conditions of Peru have preserved her well, but not completely. Her skin had dried on her bone, tattoos included. The archaeologists wanted to preserve these tattoos. So, instead of normal clay construction, they took another route about the reconstruction.
Firstly the scientist scanned the whole Skeleton of the mummy and uploaded it on a reconstructive software from a 3D technology company known as FARO.
They started by stripping away the dried skin and muscles off the skeleton to obtain the complete bone structure, according to which the features would be built further.
Once the bone structure was obtained, they filled it with deep tissue marks, according to what the average cadaver looked like. Then they proceed to fill in face muscles as according to the tissue marks. The whole process was similar to what the police forensic scientists do for a cold case in which only the bones of the victim are found.
Along the way, many problems arose. Since the skull’s nose was wholly eroded, her lips had withdrawn inwards, her eyes and eyelids had sunken, so Lady of Cao was not in the best shape.
The scientists made educated guesses to complete the construction. They took into account the photographs of important Peruvian civilians who descended from the Moche culture. They also took cues from the drawings on the temple, and from the few people living in the area who have said to be connected to that civilization.
When this was done, they had a very blank face of what Lady of Cao might have been like. But what colour was her hair and what colour were her eyes? For this, the scientist collaborated with a sculptor whose speciality was making historical figures.
Next step was constructing the whole body of the Lady of Cao similarly. It was a process which took nearly a year worth of hard work.
After their features of soft tissues and eyes were completed, Lady of Cao was given more character by adding clothes, according to what can be understood from the temple drawings, along with a crown.
Finally, Lady of Cao was ready to be displayed in the Museum. She was now a complete person, with a face and a body. She is displayed at the Museum of El Brujo currently.
The Need for Such a Reconstruction
One might ask why this reconstruction was necessary. The Lady of Cao died almost 1400 years ago, and she was not mummified. It was just a stroke of luck which preserved her body till date, but it will erode with time, even when the mummy is kept in climate-controlled chambers.
So to preserve her, and to keep this discovery alive for future generations to study about the Moche civilization, it became necessary to reconstruct Lady of Cao.
This is a very significant discovery. As it is already known, not much is available about the Moche culture. Lady of Cao was an important discovery because she gave a substantial look into the culture.
Her tattoos and her jewellery tell a story; her preservation tells a story. She herself tells us many things.
It was previously believed that this violent and passionate culture was a male ruled, patriarchal society in general. But the discovery of Lady of Cao was the first female found with significant burial rituals along with her tattoos which show that she might have been a high- priestess.
This showed that the Moche society might have been a stable political structure. The following discoveries of the eight other Priestess queens have confirmed this notion. The Moche had a more tolerant culture with Priests Kings and Priestess Queens leading their people.
Its implications are not only great for archaeology and history but also for our society today. We have been led to believe that the Pre-Incan and the Incan societies had all been male-dominated, male lead societies. With this discovery, it has been made clear that was not the case. The Ladies were given equal stature in politics and agriculture as were men.
Today the young female of Peru and others around the world can look up to Lady of Cao and decide to be like her: a leader, a queen, someone who commands her people’s respect.
Lady of Cao might have lived 1400 years ago, but she is now forever alive in young ladies’ minds all around the world. Who she was, and what her name was, are all still mysteries, but Peru will always look up to her and remember her as Senora de Cao.