Today, I held a human skull in my hand. And a spinal column. And a mummified foot. Then I ran from a giant boulder that chased me through an ancient tunnel.

Cerro de Oro, Canete, Peru

I might have made that last part up, but I did go to a Wari burial ground and hang out with the remains of some very dead people.

In the desert just outside of Cañete, Peru is a mountain called Cerro de Oro (Gold Hill). It is so named for the gold mine, which is still used, though not commercially. Around the top, there are also some ruins and skeletal human remains as far as you can see.

Canete, Cerro de Oro, Peru

I can’t tell you much about the Wari, because Wikipedia couldn’t tell me much about them, but I do know that they populated mid-southern coastal Peru from around 500 AD – 1000 AD, which means these remains are likely over a thousand years old. Which is nuts. 

Ever since, grave robbers have looted the mountain, stealing the valuables and kicking the remains aside, leaving them scattered across the top of the mountain. Since the area is so dry, most of the bone fragments and pottery remain intact – some are even partially mummified.

Cerro de Oro, Canete, Peru

A skull with hair

A Peace Corps Volunteer that serves nearby told me about the burial ground on Saturday evening and I was there Sunday morning, camera in hand and jaw down around my chest. I’m not religious, but there’s still something disconcerting about being surrounded by skeletal human remains. Though not disconcerting enough to pick up a skull and take a picture with it.

Canete, Peru, Cerro de Oro

A pottery shard in my right, a skull in my left

Interested in seeing the burial ground?

How to Get There

Get off at Cañetes and find a combi (van that runs a bus route) going north and tell the driver “Cerro de Oro”. He should drop you off at a statue of a man planning a hand drum (picture below). Walk inland (between farm fields, towards a yellowish hill with ramshackle houses on the side of it) for a few hundred yards and take your first left. Follow the road until you get near the top, then get off the road and go up. Once you’re over the lip of the hill, you’ll begin to see bones.

Canetes, Peru

The entrance to Cerro de Oro