Treasure and Adventure in the Tombs of Sipan

By Richmond, Dick | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), May 2, 1996 | Go to article overview

Treasure and Adventure in the Tombs of Sipan


Richmond, Dick, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


"LORDS OF SIPAN"

By Sidney D. Kirkpatrick

(8 1/2 hours, unabridged, Recorded Books, $13.50 rental, $45 purchase)

Not since Howard Carter opened the tomb of Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamen in 1922 has archaeology enjoyed anything with as much high drama as the 1987 discovery of the Moche tomb of the lords of Sipan.

Sipan is a small village in northern Peru near the town of Lambyeque, which is the home of the Bruning Archaeological Museum. It was the director of the Bruning, Walter Alva, who was at the center of much of this drama.

Regarding the Moches: They were an agricultural people who flourished in the desert region between the Andes and the Pacific from the first through the seventh century A.D. They prospered because they were able to construct a complex irrigation system to water the desert.

Eventually, these early Peruvians established an advanced society skilled in art and metalworking. Then, as the centuries progressed, the Moche began building truncated pyramids of sun-baked mud in which to inter their honored dead - and with them some of fine examples of home-grown art.

Today, these adobe monuments are referred to by Peruvians as huacas. Because huacas exist, so do bands of grave robbers who plunder them for the flourishing black market in pre-Columbian art. The plunderers are called huaqueros. In fact, it was a group of huaqueros who opened the 1, 500-year-old tomb at Sipan, but it was Alva and his archaeological team who rescued the world's richest unlooted tomb to provide scholarship its first in-depth understanding of the Moche culture.

John McDonough is the narrator of this exciting account. He takes the listener from the moment that one of the huaqueros thought he was the victim of a pyramid cave-in and found himself up to his neck in treasure through the sophisticated workings of the dealers in stolen art who supply an international market. But mostly, the story is about Alva, a brave man who stood against powerful individuals who were threatening to gobble up the treasure and take his life if he got in their way.

This is high adventure at its most intense because it is true, and for anyone interested in archaeology, this book is a must. It makes you want to see what Alva unearthed. With that thought in mind, I located some beautiful examples of the Sipan treasure on the Internet at http://rtpnet. …

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