Mask at the Tumbas Reales de Sipán Museum, Lambayeque, Peru
Sipán is a Moche archaeological site in northern Peru that is famous for the tomb of El Señor de Sipán (Lord of Sipán), excavated by Walter Alva and his wife Susana Meneses beginning in 1987. The tomb of the Lord of Sipan has been dated to around 100 AD.
The site, where fourteen tombs have been discovered, is considered to be one of the most important archaeological discoveries in the last 30 years, because the main tomb was found intact and undisturbed by thieves. Tombs have been found also in Sipán's Huaca Rajada, an area near Chiclayo. Many huaca have been found that contain burial goods of Moche jewelry, masks, and art.
The tombs in the area are of adobe construction, of pyramidal shape, now eroded by successive El Niño events. Excavations continue.
During the excavations in 1987–1990, a spectacular treasure of gold and silver ornamental and ceremonial artifacts was recovered, dating to AD 50–300. These objects demonstrate the outstanding craftsmanship of the Moche metalsmiths, and their use of elaborate metalworking techniques. Objects are usually made of thin sheet metal that was worked further in various ways. Electrochemical gilding was used. Alloys of copper with gold and some silver were employed, known as tumbaga.
A mock-up of the Lord of Sipan's tomb, complete with replica head-dress, breastplates and other grave goods, is open to visitors at the museum devoted to this site, which was opened in 2002. A reconstruction of the Lord of Sipan in his regalia is displayed in the Archaeological Museum of Lima, Peru.
It is believed that the people placed grave goods, including the remains of servants, to ensure survival of the elite into the afterlife. Also discovered were hundreds of small clay pots with individual faces, understood to be offerings made by the lord's subjects.
Several dozens of such Moche tombs likely existed at one time, but almost all known tombs on the coast of Peru have been looted. This looting has occurred since at least the Spanish colonial period. Documented colonial mining laws stipulated how "looting rights" were to be determined.
In modern times, the government has declared looting illegal, although it is still widely practiced. The archaeological sites are so numerous that law enforcement numbers are often insufficient to protect them.
^G. Horz, M.K. (2000). "The treasure of gold and silver artifacts from the Royal Tombs of Sipan, Peru - a study on the Moche metalworking techniques". Materials Characterization45: 391–420. doi:10.1016/s1044-5803(00)00093-0.