Photo: Example of a Sicán funerary mask painted red. (The Met Museum)

Ancient Golden Mask From 1,000 Years Ago Hides a Gruesome, Bloody Secret

By Tessa Koumoundouros (link to full article –

Sipan ruler tomb El Brujo Peru tour Machu Picchu tour archaeology tourA thousand years ago, in what is now Peru, a middle-aged man was entombed amid a wealth of golden artifacts. His tightly scrunched-up body was turned upside-down, his head detached and placed close by. On his face was a delicate metal mask, with large decorative earrings and bulging beaded eyes. Both the mask and skeleton were streaked red.

The red pigment was identified as cinnabar when the mask was first discovered 30 years ago, but researchers led by University of Oxford chemist, Elisabete Pires, were curious to understand what bound the paint together. Their investigation revealed a little more than they were expecting – human blood.

Predating the renowned Incas, the Lambayeque culture, or Sicán as it’s also known, lived along the northern coast of Peru between the 8th and 14th centuries. With their advanced metallurgy skills they produced many dazzling golden objects.

Travel with Far Horizons to see Sicán and other Northern Peru sites on Peru: Inka and Their Ancestors.