Cao Museum
El Brujo and Lady of Cao

The Witch Archaeological Complex



Daily - From 09:00 to 17:00 (last entrance 16:00) Adults: S/.11.50

Entrance Ticket

Students and Teachers: S/. 3.60 - Children: S/. 1.00


Chicama Valley - 60 Km north of Trujillo - North Pan-American Highway - Left deviation 25 Km.


Guides, Site Museum, bathrooms



By Dr. Régulo Franco Jordán
© Fundación A. W. Wiese

The Discovery

In 1990 during the Independence holidays, I was invited by Dr. Guillermo Wiese de Osma (owner of Peru's Wiese Bank) to make a reconnaissance of the principal archaeological sites of the northern department of La Libertad. We had just finished another season of archaeological excavations in the Pachacamac Sacred City, south of Lima. During our reconnaissance we went to the Chicama valley which is considered one of the most important places for the origin of the Peruvian civilization. We visited El Brujo archaeological complex, located 60 km northwest from Trujillo, close to a small town called Magdalena de Cao in the province of Ascope. Here is found the memorable and prehistoric Prieta Pyramid, adjudged to belong to the first agriculturists in Peru. We were accompanied by a man from the town of Magdalena, Arturo Carrera, and when we heard him telling us about the decoration of human figures on the walls of a pyramid called the White Pyramid, we were really surprised. Today this pyramid is known as Cao Viejo, because of the ancient colonial town.


The Name

Alter staying for some days in the little town of Magdalena de Cao, we were told about another pyramid close to the sea called El Brujo. This pyramid got its name from the healers and shamans who used to visit the pyramids from the northern and southern coasts to charge the necessary energy for their work. Hence the name, El Brujo, witch or shaman. Today this pyramid is still full of surprises with its many legends that are still told by the inhabitants of the Chicama Valley. One of these legends tells of a carriage full of gold that appeared at the opening of the pyramid and then drove into the sea, where it sank. Other people say that a golden bell was found in the pyramid, and that the people of Magdalena de Cao and Santiago de Cao fought over the bell. The bell was taken from the pyramid and finally disappeared in the Cerro Campana (or bell hill) located between Trujillo and the Chicama Valley. However, we now know that the pyramids opening is a result of looting by treasure hunters during colonial times.


The First Steps

Following the information given by Arturo Carrera, Dr. Wiese asked me to coordinate with my colleague Segundo Vasquez to take legal steps with the National Cultural Institute of La Libertad in order to obtain permission to start emergency archaeological excavations for 3 months.

We became bewitched with this new challenge in archaeology, up to this time the existence of mud relief decorations for the Mochica Culture was unknown, and we were very excited. With the assistance of Dr. Wiese, alter 8 months an agreement was signed between the Augusto N. Wiese Foundation, the National Cultural Institute La Libertad and the National University of Trujillo for five years. Then in 1996 a new agreement was approved until 2005. Over this period the pyramid will continue to reveal secrets which have laid dormant for hundreds of years.


El Brujo as a Cultural Tradition

These past 10 years of archaeological investigation and conservation work have confirmed the existence of a large ceremonial center whose regional prestige possibly reached 2 millennia back since the construction of temples and sacred areas during the pre-Chavin, Chavin, Salinar and Viru cultural occupation of the Chicama and Moche Valleys. However, the origin of these civilizations in the ceremonial area of the Brujo archaeological complex date from 5,000 years ago, that is pre-ceramic times. The Prieta pyramid is the most important place from these times. In 1946 people from all over the world were surprised with discoveries by Junius Bird, the North American archaeologist.

He found the oldest vestiges of the first Peruvian agriculturists men who combined fishing activities with the collection of wild plants, and who lived in semi-subterranean houses made with stones joined with clay and garbage mix. These houses were covered with whale bones. Thanks to Junius Bird we had the first radio carbon dating for this Peruvian monument.


The Mochica Occupation and the Splendor of El Brujo

During the Mochica occupation (700 AC) the Brujo complex, following ancient tradition, became the religious capital of the whole "curacazgos" or lordships established in the Chicama Valley. But this does not mean that there were no other minor religious and administrative centers in the valley. It the whole of the Mochica territory is examined, from Piura to Nepeña (about 600 km) each valley had a ceremonial center like El Brujo complex. Examples of the southern Mochica culture can be found at the Dos Cabezas pyramid, near the mouth of the Jequetepeque river, the Sol and La Luna pyramid in the Moche valley, the Huancaco pyramids in Viru, and the Pañamarca pyramids in Nepeña. They were constructed in a style typical of the Jequetepeque Nepeña area, with temples of high flat-top pyramids with terraces on the four sides and a big ceremonial plaza in front. Its axis was deliberately oriented to the north. The main north front and even the inner walls of the plaza were beautifully decorated with important images with magic and religious meaning. All of this splendor and power demonstrates a great investment in materials and manpower because of religious beliefs. This was one of the most important aspects of the Mochica society. From the different constructions at the archaeological complex of El Brujo, two pyramids can be seen as the most important the Cao Viejo and El Brujo (or Cortada) pyramids. Of the two, the Cao Viejo pyramid would have been of great religious importance for its ceremonies. I paid a great deal of attention to these ceremonial centers that only appear in the Mochica and Chicama valleys. To explain this dualism I have establish a hypothesis between the relationships of these pyramids with the worship. In the latest times Iconographers have established the existence of two main gods for the mochica religious world. They are often represented in ceramics portraying ceremonies, sacrifices, battles etc.

In the 1940s Rafael Larco Hoyle established that the Aiapaec was the most important Mochican divinity. But before him, in the XVII century the priest Fernando de la Carrera in "The Art of the Yunga Language" said that historically they worshipped two gods one of them was the Aiapaec and the other was Xicopaex.

According to studies made by Dra. Rostorowski, Aiapaec was related to the reproduction of the animal, vegetable and human world. On the other hand, Xicopaec was considered as a divinity who gave life to everything present.

From these studies we can deduce that the high relief representations at the Cao Viejo pyramid are connected to a domestic world (human offerings, ritualistic battles, human sacrifices, ritual events, etc) and must therefore be dedicated to Aiapaec. On the other hand, the presence of a beautiful mural with stylized fishes and geometrical designs at El Brujo, in addition to its location close to the sea, would indicate a temple dedicated to the Xicopaec god. Anyway, this is only a hypothesis that will be confirmed alter archaeological investigations.


The Cao Viejo Pyramid

The Cao Viejo Pyramid, as far as we know, has had seven architectural modifications (AG), known as buildings or phases. This means that the temple was first built at the beginning of the Christian era, and finished working approximately in the VII century A.C. The first buildings had facades with well defined terraces, painted in red, white and yellow (building D). Otherwise, in the later phases, in spite of the added construction over the well shaped early pyramid, colorful mural ornamentations in a high relief decoration appear on the main facade and also on the inner walls of the ceremonial plaza. It is evident that bodies were buried in these constructions, and these bodies were sometimes decapitated. It appears that these bodies were offered in order to please the gods into providing abundant food and welfare for the community.

The appearance of the Cao Viejo pyramid during the latest occupation (building A) is of a flat topped pyramid, with four staired sides. its base was about 120 meters and about 30 meters high. Its main facade was orientated to the north. A main plaza (140 meters long by 75 meters wide) joined the pyramid, and the floor of building C was painted of white. To the right side of the plaza (East Annex) there were wide platforms, it perhaps had a lot of painted rooms that may have been related to the activities in the plaza and the main building. We know that some of these rooms were painted on white and red with fake niches, platforms and ramps for building D. The construction was made with adobe bricks made from wood and cane molds, and highlighting the last buildings are adobe bricks with the makers stamp which appear in Mochica religious constructions. Some archaeologists such as Moseley, say- the marked adobes are related to certain groups of workers, giving us an idea of the massive participation and religious organization. To reach the top of the temple the side’s parts of the facade were used, from terrace to terrace, using side and front ramps until arriving to the superior platform where there was a ceremonial yard, such as at building D. From here a larger ramp lead to the main platform where rituals and ceremonies were held in different sized rooms with niches and pillars which were possibly dedicated to the worshipping of the pyramids or favorite Mochica gods. It is not easy for us to imagine the complete decoration, but it is certain that the different sized rooms were painted of white, inspiring a sacred atmosphere, and the chroniclers have said that only privileged people could reach the top of this temple.

At the top of buildings D and E of the temple, we have noticed a ceremonial square of approximately 32 meters by 30 meters with a sacred area angled to the South east. The inner walls of the yard are completely decorated with stylized, geometrical representations of fish that were probably worshipped by Mochica people from early times. An exceptional case in Mochica architecture is the discovery of squared, 3 meter high columns of adobe painted with the same representations as on the walls, which definitely supported the lateral blocks of the ceremonial plaza. A fact that cannot be ignored in the history of this Mochica temple is related to the end of the use of building D (in approximately III century A.C.). The evidence talks about a "Mega Niño" with very strong rains and earthquakes that affected the whole region. These natural disasters damaged many of the Mochica temples, especially the Cao Viejo pyramid. This bad experience probably led the leaders of the religious cast to abandon the building and rebuild another one on the top of it. The religious images were recreated, modified and presented on the main front of the temple in the form of supernatural beings, high relief decorations representing human sacrifices, and guardian animals which were all linked to rituals. These images tell us much about the direct communication between the priests and the gods. We know as well that during the construction of the new temple (building C) that certain burning rituals were held to renovate and purify certain areas, and that sacrifices of adults, and perhaps children, were made.


The Colorful Images

The pictorial representations in relief in the walls of Cao Viejo have a varied shade, from topics matters until complex topics. There is in each one of the terraces an expression and different meaning that it reflects the symbolic way from the real world to the spiritual world (the world of below and the world of up), and it is confirmed that the sacred spaces of the higher part were dedicated for the officiating ones (priests) of higher range. It could not lack the main image of the well-known mochicas as the "decapitator", founded incomplete in the main frontis, in a third level.

Lately it has been discovered in the high part of the Huaca Cao Viejo for the building D, a ceremonial patio with an enclosure in the angle South-east. In the north wall of the referred enclosure the almost complete figure appears in two square panels and polychrome in natural size and in relief of the "Decapitador Mochica". It is a supernatural being of front whose face possibly with feline features not yet has been found. It has a reversed semi-moon headdress, bi-lobes ears with slopes. In the right hand it holds a scepter or puncture sharp device and with the left hand he catches of the hair a human head separated from their body. From the chest it lolls a tumi (or ceremonial knife); he wears an underwear and a belt. He has the legs lightly flexed and their feet finish off in feline claws; on the shoulders they are projected up six striped bands, three to each side, and of the waist born six curved appendixes, three to each side, which look like the extremities of a spider and that they would be the antecedents of the visible attributes in the decapitator of the north frontis of the building A. Finally, under the right hand a voluta relief appears that finishes off in a condor head looking toward the west in address to the central character. In the walls there are other varied representations, from strictly complex scenes until subtle and rustic representations like the well known graffiti.

The graffiti like representations are in the form of men, animal and plants and reveal that they were made spontaneously by the priests of the temple in a special spiritual trance. Likewise, the complex representations that have been made deliberately on the wall in the enclosure in the lower part of the ceremonial square reveal the structure of a ceremonial mochica calendar never before encountered in other temples similar to Cao Viejo.

Other figures were represented in the North frontis by a lingering permanency highlighting for their content and colorful, we have for example, the ritual battles and the parade of prisoners and warriors; the officiating ones, the decapitator; the sacrifice scene; and stylized geometric images of fish. With respect to the ritual battles and helping us with the pictorial representations of the ceramic, now more or less we can reconstruct the process of such facts. These ritual battles were developed during the dry station, possibly from the beginning of the summer solstice and it seems to be related with a phenomenon of which they wanted to capture in the time and in the temple, in such a way that this battle and all the ritual events were permanent in the history of the mochica town, being institutionalized the propitiation ceremonial. Although we do not still know what warriors they faced, it is possible to me, to understand that the confrontation was among the representative warriors of each temple.

The warlike activity was made in arid lands, maybe the pampas of Paijan or some other near place. The confrontation was sometimes accompanied by music, thunder noises and dogs to give bigger euphoria to the combat. It is not of anything discarded, but it is possible that, to encourage the combatant's spirit, it was used some hallucinogen type, and it was worn special clothes that at the same time it allowed them to be linked with the spirits of the telluric forces and of the divinity that governed. In this state of the combatants' conscience, and in the peal of the battle, even the weapons of war they cheered up and they charged life.

The winner group, with the gills on, immediately was ready to steal the weapons and attires of the conquered group, until leaving them completely naked. Bosses and subordinate hurt by effect of the combat were stained premeditatedly by the nose, because the human blood had a high value for them, and even, they were practiced not very deep courts in some parts of the inferior members, especially in to the base of the masculine genital, just as we can observe in Ihe murals of El Brujo. The conquered ones were led nudes with the rope to the neck toward the temple.


The Lady of Cao

A female mummy, baptized the Lady of Cao, with complex tattoos on her arms has been found in a ceremonial burial site in Peru. Archaeologists say is one of the best-ever relics of a civilization that ended more than 1,300 years ago.

The mummy was accompanied by ceremonial items including jewelry and weapons, and the remains of a teenage girl who had been sacrificed, archaeologists reported. Such a complete array has never been seen before in a Moche tomb.

The presence of gold jewelry and other fine items indicates the mummy was that of an important person, but anthropologist John Verano of Tulane University said the researchers are puzzled by the presence of war clubs, which are not usually found with females.

Peruvian archaeologists, under the direction of lead scientist Régulo Franco, made the discovery last year at an ancient ceremonial site known as El Brujo - “the Wizard”.


El Brujo Photo Gallery


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