A group of researchers from the Sicán Archaeological Project in Peru discovered remains of human blood and protein from bird eggs in a funerary mask 1,000-year-old gold.
The object belongs to the Lambayeque culture, also known as Sicán, which inhabited the north coast of present-day Peru and predates the Incas. According to experts, this civilization was largely focused on the funeral practices of the elites and the dead were often buried with astonishing grave goods.
The finding, published in the scientific journal Journal of Proteome Research, it comes from a reassessment of the mask that covered the skull of an elite man painted red and lay face down in a tomb excavated by a team of archaeologists in the early 1990s.
The scientists, led by Izumi Shimada, at that time they identified the pigment as cinnabar, a reddish mercury sulfide mineral, yet the effective organic binder remained a mystery until now.
For this study, Shimada and his colleagues analyzed a small sample of mask paint using spectroscopy, an analysis based on the interaction between matter and electromagnetic radiation.
The team found six human blood proteins in the dye used, including serum albumin and immunoglobulin G, as well as other types of proteins such as ovalbumin, from egg whites.
According to the researchers, this discovery “would support earlier ideas that red cinnabar paint may represent ‘life force’ “ and the arrangement of the skeletons would be related to the desired “rebirth” of the late Sicán leader.
Likewise, they highlight that the results suggest a method to authenticate similar masks of unknown provenance and that are found in private collections and museums.
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