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Summer 2001
The Digger
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"Actually, I find it very pleasant," he says. Beneath the southern canopy of stars -- completely different from what we see in the northern hemisphere -- he will read a novel by lantern light while listening to Bob Dylan or Beethoven on a tape player. Sometimes he'll soften the night's chill with a glass of Chilean wine.

"At first, the workers couldn't believe I would do this," Donnan laughs. "The morning after the first night I slept in the tomb at Dos Cabezas, I was rolling up my bedroll when I spotted the workers gathered around at the pyramid's base, looking at me, completely silent. It was as if they had been wondering, 'Will he still be alive today?'

"But I wouldn't feel comfortable sleeping anywhere else," he says. "I'd be awake all night worrying that someone was rifling the tomb."

One of the big questions for Donnan at the end of the '97 field season was whether there was any relationship between the small compartment he found and the burial. He talked with other archaeologists from around the world and learned that this was the first reported occurrence of this anywhere. He also pondered something he'd noticed toward the end of the season: vertical cracks in the brick wall above the burial chamber, and similar cracks in the north side wall of their excavation. Was it possible, Donnan wondered, that another tomb might be immediately north of this one?

When the team resumed digging at the site in 1998, they expanded the excavation northward to see if the cracks were indeed evidence of another tomb. By the end of the second day, a second tomb was revealed -- also of a Moche elite but even richer than the first. A large copper bowl had been inverted over the nobleman's face. When Donnan lifted the bowl, he expected to see a skeletal face. Instead, in one of the excavation's most memorable moments, Donnan found himself staring into the inlaid eyes of a beautiful gold-and-copper funerary mask, one of the finest pieces of pre-Columbian art ever excavated.

Three exquisite gold-and-silver nose ornaments were placed over the man's mouth when he was buried, and five gold objects had been placed inside his mouth. He wore a headdress decorated with gilded copper bats and a bat nose ornament of solid gold, and a beautiful ceramic vessel in the form of a bat, which is associated in Moche art with human sacrifice. Seven other elaborate ceramic vessels also were in the tomb, along with 13 headdresses, war clubs, spear-throwers, spears, gold and silver jewelry and the remains of a young female attendant and a llama that had been sacrificed to accompany the nobleman on his journey to the next world.

And again, there was a little compartment containing a small copper man lying on his back. This statuette, however, had a miniature burial mask over his face, and was accompanied by miniature headdresses, war clubs, shields, spear-throwers, spears and jewelry -- miniature versions of what was contained in the full-sized burial chamber. It was then that the archaeologists realized that the compartments were scaled-down versions of the tombs, and the copper figures were representations of the deceased.

Noticing more vertical cracks in the north wall of the excavation at the end of that field season, Donnan believed there could be yet another tomb. In 1999, the team carefully excavated immediately north of the tomb they'd opened the previous year, and again on the second day found a third tomb containing another member of the Moche elite, also with a small compartment and a small copper man.

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