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Lady of Cao

On the beautiful northern coastline of Peru, overlooking the blue Pacific, one of the most mysterious monuments of the Moche people, Huaca El Brujo (Sacred Place of the Wizard), gives a rare glimpse into this ancient culture. The mummified body of a young woman was uncovered in the ruins, and, to this day, so much mystery surrounds her story that photos of the Lady and even the museum are prohibited.

The Lady of Cao was discovered in 2006 by a team of Peruvian archaeologists. The 1,500-year-old mummy may shed new light on the enigmatic Moche culture, which occupied Peru's northern coastal valleys from about AD 100 to 800. A modern autopsy indicated that the twenty-something Lady of Cao may have died of complications due to pregnancy or childbirth. Fascinatingly, her body is heavily tattooed, with images of serpents, crabs and spiders – all animals associated with the Moche pantheon of divine creatures – which leads scholars to believe she may have been a high priestess or ruler.

What is known about how the Lady of Cao ruled her pre-Incan empire is shocking. Murals depict post-battle rituals where victims were sacrificed naked and tied together. The Lady would send them to the top of the platform of the El Brujo Pyramid where their throats were slit, the blood collected in a goblet for their priestess queen to drink and offer to the gods.

The well-appointed and modern Cao Museum gives a complete overview of the El Brujo Archaeological Complex and the many ancient and intriguing objects that were found there, including funeral objects, weaving tools, and jewelry. Even so, “La Senora Cao’s” mummy is definitely the highlight.