Archaeologists have unearthed the remains of 42 people in a cemetery next to a Peruvian hospital that dates back to the 16th century, when the country was first part of the Spanish empire.
The skeletons were found in the courtyard of Hospital Real de San Andres, a former hospital in the center of Peru’s capital city of Lima.
The historical building, which was built specifically for Spanish patients in 1552, is considered to be the oldest hospital in both Peru and South America.
Thought to be the training place of the first doctors of the 16th century, the site had a church to bring the deceased closer to God, and even a space for the mentally ill.
The bodies remained undiscovered for centuries, even though they were buried only 30 cm below the ground.
While not thought to be among the bodies found, experts think the site also hides the remains of the mummies of the last Incas, the tribe that ruled the Andean region of South America before the Spanish conquest.
In addition, experts found an underground cellar and sherds of pre-Hispanic pottery, possibly dating to the Inca period, possibly before the hospital’s construction.
According to experts, most of the newly found bones belonged to men, many of whom died of syphilis and skull deformities.
Archaeologists found a cross, possibly made of copper, on the neck of one of the deceased. Historically, patients arriving at the hospital were placed on beds in the corridors where they could listen to rituals from their beds.
“People who did not survive the treatment are buried here,” said Héctor Walde, chief archaeologist of the municipality of Lima. ‘The ritual and piety in Lima was very strong.’
The Real de San Andrés Hospital was founded by Viceroy Andres Hurtado de Wildoso, a Spanish officer. The main structure of the hospital was designed in the shape of a cross, with an alternator in the middle. Other adjoining structures included offices, a pharmacy, a psychiatric ward, a garden, and a cemetery.
Excavations at the site began 20 years ago and have uncovered evidence of the cemetery, as well as the remains of a 19th-century fountain, an early colonial garbage pit, and a vaulted structure. But the 42 bodies were unearthed after several months of recent excavations in downtown Lima.