While Peru is world-famous for the Inca and Macchu Picchu, it has a rich history predating the Inca. In the dry deserts of northwestern Peru, the ancient city of Chan Chan flourished long before Macchu Picchu, while the El Brujo Archaeological Complete preserves another ancient complex civilization predating the Inca.

One of the most notable finds at El Brujo has been the mummy dubbed the "Lady of Cao." This has changed our understanding of women in this part of the world and period of history. El Brujo is a reminder that there is much more to Peru's ancient history than the stunning history of the Inca's Sacred Valley.


El Brujo Archeological Site and the Moche

The Lady of Cao is a female Moche mummy that was discovered at the important Peruvian archeological site of El Brujo. The mummy was discovered in the "splendid" tomb at Cao Viejo temple within the El Brujo archeological complex having lain there for around 1,700 years.

  • Site: El Brujo Archeological Site
  • Excavation: Only around 5% of The El Brujo Complex Has Been Excavated

The Moche civilization flourished in northern Peru from around 100 AD to around 700 AD. Their capital was located near present-day Moche, Trujillo, Peru. There is still much to learn about this civilization and many think that they were not organized as a monolithic empire or state.

Instead, of being a unified state, the Moche may have been a group of autonomous polities with a shared common culture - perhaps a bit like the Mayans or Greek city-states.

The woman of the mummy was likely contemporary with another famous figure from this period of Moche history - the Lord of Sipan. The mummy is thought to date from around 450 AD. The Lord of Sipan's royal tombs have been compared to those of Egyptian pharaohs like Pharaoh Tutankhamen for the wealth inside the tomb.

  • Lord of Sipan: Ancient Ruler Whose Tomb was Discovered In 1987

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The Mummy - The Lady of Cao

The Lady of Cao was only discovered in 2006 and underscores how much more there is yet to see and discover.

Fortunately, the mummy was found in excellent condition. This is partly due to the salty seawater it was likely bathed in and the cinnabar (mercury sulfide) it was likely anointed with. The mummy was found heavily tattooed and wrapped in many layers of cloth.

  • Tattoos: She Has Tattoos on Her Forearms and Hands Of Serpents and Spiders
  • Serpent: Perhaps a Sign of Her Religious Power as a Healer
  • Spider: Perhaps To Highlight Her Talent As a Weaver
  • Layers: The Mummy Was Encased in 25 Layers of Fine Cloth, Cotton, and Even Copper Plates

It was also found with a number of ceremonial items like jewelry and weapons. The remains of a second young woman were also found - perhaps a human sacrifice remaining us that these were very different times.

  • Second Young Woman: Possibly Sacrificial Victim
  • Age: Dates from around 450 AD

According to La Prensa Latina Media, she was buried with not only her wealth and the teenage girl but also two bodyguards and two priests. The 3,000 square foot room was decorated in murals that present Moche cosmology that also depict different divinities in the form of various animals.

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As a Woman And Her Status

The richness of the burial site suggests that she may have been a high-ranking priestess, a Moche ruler, or occupied some other position of power or reverence. Prior to discovering the mummy, it had been thought that only men held high ranks in Moche culture. Now it would seem the picture is (as always) more complicated.

La Prensa Latina Media goes so far as to say of her that she is "Considered to be the most powerful woman in Ancient Peru."

They note that her discovery forced history booked to reevaluate the role of women in pre-Hispanic civilizations. The mummy was discovered in the largest Moche temple complex and there is every reason to believe this woman once enjoyed a high social-political position.

  • Height: She Stood 4 Foot 10 Inches or 148 CM
  • Age At Death: Mid-Twenties (Perhaps 25)
  • Cause Of Death: Possibly Childbirth or Complications From Pregnancy

The mummy has been replicated. 3D imaging was used to reconstruct what she looked like including forensics archeology based on her skull structure and ethnographic research. The project took around 10 months to complete and was unveiled in 2017.

So today people can see what this powerful young woman likely looked like in real life. While we will likely never know what she was called, we can have an idea of what she looked like.


While visiting the El Burjo Achealogical Complex visit the accompanying museum and see the mummy and the replica of the woman within it.

  • Days Open: Monday to Sunday
  • Opening Hours: 9:00 a.m. to 3:50 p.m.
  • General Admission: S/. 10.00 ($2.50)
  • Includes: Entrance to the Complex And to the Huacas and the Cao Museum.

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