< Back to Permanent Exhibition

Death in the Ancient Peru

Room 10

When the leaders of pre-Columbian societies died they aspired to a semi-divine status in order to draw closer to the gods. Funerary rituals were essential to the successful outcome of this transformation.

In the modern western world the dominant forces are those of technological progress and the improvement of quality of life. However, this “cult of life” has made it more difficult for us to connect with the immaterial aspects of existence which are also part of human experience.

In the Andean world view, death did not mark the end of life, but rather the beginning of a new life in the world of the dead. Birth and death were periods of transition which had to be accompanied by rites and ceremonies. The proper performance of a ritual would ensure the desired result; that children would be born and the dead arrive in the next world.

The death of the community’s leaders had particular significance. In life, they fulfilled special roles associated with their position as intermediaries between the earthly world and the world inhabited by the gods. In those societies which developed a state or imperial political structure, leaders were considered the direct descendants, or “children” of the gods.

When its leaders died, society as a whole had to ensure that they would cross successfully from this world to the world of the dead, and that their journey to their final destination, closer to the gods, would be a good one. Through this journey the deceased leaders would be transformed into society’s ancestors, and they would care for and guide society from their elevated position.

To that end, the “cult of the ancestors” required that ancient Peruvians carefully prepare the burials of their leaders. The tomb, which was the space where the ancestor would dwell, had to be specially designed. The body of the ancestor had to be prepared and clothed with adornments and emblems that denoted their social position, ceremonial functions and membership of a divine lineage. All of these activities were loaded with great meaning and importance.

Miniature Funerary Offerings
Room 10, Vitrine 123

Lambayeque Ceremonial Scepter
Room 10, Vitrine 124

Funerary Ritual
Room 10, Vitrine 125

Deformed and Trepanated Skulls
Room 10, Vitrine 126

Mochica Heads of Gold Scepters
Room 10, Vitrine 127

Funerary Masks
Room 10, Vitrine 128

Chavín Funerary Offering
Room 10, Vitrine 129

Huari Funerary Bundle
Room 10, Vitrine 130