Piercing blue eyes undimmed by the passing of 1,300 years, this is the Lady of the Mask – a mummy whose discovery could reveal the secrets of a lost culture.
She was found by archaeologists excavating a pyramid in Peru’s capital city Lima,
alongside two other adult mummies and the sacrificial remains of a child.
It is the first time a tomb from the region’s Wari culture has been discovered intact and gives historians the chance to pin down exactly how the pre-Incas buried their dead.
The mummy - assumed to be a noblewoman because of the ornate mask - was found in a crouching position surrounded by ceramics and textiles associated with female weavers.
“Her face startled me at first,” said 19-year-old Miguel Angel, one of the workers who carried her body out of the tomb.
“I wasn’t expecting to find anything like that.”
Earlier in the week, workers at the Huaca Pucllana site removed two adult mummies found lying near the lady of the mask.
Archaeologists have been excavating the area for three years and while they found plenty of artefacts, the 30 other tombs uncovered had been looted.
The Wari, who came from Peru’s southern highlands and ruled a vast area of the country from 500 to 1000 AD, conducted multiple burials and sent their loved ones into the afterlife with provisions and the tools of their trade.
“We’d discovered other tombs before,” Isabel Flores, the dig’s director, said. “But they always had holes or were damaged. Never had we found a whole tomb like this one – intact.
“The sacrifices were very common, particularly of children and young girls. They were part of their ritual offerings to the sea and the land.”
Two other masks were found near the bodies but the archaeologists believe the blue-eyed mummy was the only important woman among the dead.
“The mask had very firm eyes, they seemed very strong, and it shocked the workers as much as the archaeologists,” Ms Flores said.
Tests are being carried out on the other adult mummies to find out what sex they are but Ms Flores said identifying the noblewoman’s gender was relatively simple.
When in good condition, Wari tombs can be identified by the ceramic and textile offerings placed around the dead.
Small children were often sacrificed and it is common to find their bodies alongside adult ones.
Archaeologists said the child discovered with the adult mummies at Huaca Pucllana was most likely sacrificed.
The discovery confirms the Wari people buried their dead in what is now Lima and offers a more complete picture of how burials were carried out.