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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Bizarro Pizarro

Who's buried in Pizarro's tomb?  Unlike the one about Grant's tomb, this riddle is tricky.  Or was.  No one knows definitively who WAS buried there, but Pizarro is in there at last.

It's hard to think that someone who was as cruel and deceptive as Pizarro would be so honored.  Perhaps it's the fact that he is dead that is celebratory.  But history buffs and devout Catholics have venerated his ornate sarcophagus in the Lima Cathedral in Peru for centuries.  Unfortunately, he wasn't in it.

Close-up of the mosaic behind the sarcophagus.

Pizarro not only dealt the Incas a low blow, but also screwed one of his partners out of his rightful share of the booty and then garroted him, just like the Inca leader Atahualpa.  His partner's son, and some other enemies, attacked him in 1541, stabbing Pizarro in the throat, face, and skull even after he was dead.

The Lima Cathedral

His paternal half-brother, Francisco Alcántara, was also killed in the scuffle. Alcántara's wife initially buried her husband and Pizarro behind the cathedral. Pizarro was later reburied under the main altar in 1545, then moved to a special chapel within the cathedral in 1606.  There are church documents from 1661 that state that there was a wooden box with a lead box inside inscribed in Spanish: Here is the skull of Marquis Don Francisco Pizarro who discovered and won Peru and placed it under the crown of Castile.

Pizarro in Lima.
Image courtesy of Opentopia.

On the 350th anniversary of his death in 1891, a "scientific" committee examined the remains said to be Pizarro.  Their conclusion was that the skull conformed to the cranial morphology that "science" attributed to criminals, hence confirming the identification.

Pizarro's signature mark, or rubrica, written twice with his name in between.
Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

In 1977 some workers were cleaning out a crypt underneath the altar.  They found two wooden boxes containing human bones.  One held the remains of two children, an elderly female, an elderly male, a second elderly male without a head, and fragments of a sword.  The other wooden box contained the aforementioned lead box with a skull.  The skull matched the bones of the headless skeleton in the first box.

A portrait of Pizzaro, circa 1540, artist unknown.
Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

A Peruvian historian, anthropologist, and two radiologists, and two U.S. anthropologists examined all the remains.  The headless skeleton was determined to be a while male, at least 60 years of age when he died, and 5'5" to 5'9" in height.  Most of his upper molars and much of his lower incisors and molars were missing.  He had arthritic lipping, a broken nose, as had apparently fractured his right ulna when he was a child.

Pizarro's house and statue in Trujillo, Spain.

There were injuries consistent with four sword thrusts to the neck, and his 6th and 12th thoracic vertebrae had been nicked.  The hands and arms had been wounded from warding off sword thrusts (a cut on his left first metacarpal, his right fifth metacarpal was missing, a cut through the right zygomatic arch, a penetration to the left eye socket, and dagger marks through the neck into the base of the skull). This suggests savage overkill, rather than death in battle or a simple assassination.

The Inca ruler Atahualpa begs Pizarro for mercy.
Image courtesy Getty Images.

This group concluded that the skull and headless skeleton not only went together, but they were once Pizarro.  The other skeletal remains were presumed to be Alcántara and his wife, the children either their sons or Pizarro's.

Map of Pizarro's conquest of Peru, in The Historical Atlas
by William R. Shepherd, 1923, courtesy University of Texas.

The desiccated body that had been thought to be Pizarro's all these centuries showed no signs of trauma. It was decided that perhaps it was the remains of a church official.  The real Pizarro's bones were put into a coffin and placed in the sarcophagus.

Pizarro's 16th century home in Trujillo, Spain.  Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

It's interesting that he has been honored as "discovering" Peru, since I'm sure the native people of Peru did not realize that they were lost.  Pizarro is touted for defeating the Incas when he was vastly outnumbered.  However there was much infighting at the time within the Incas, and Atahualpa's downfall caused some rejoicing.  Little did they know what was to come.  Pizarro, through his father, was a second cousin once removed to Hernán Cortés, another cruel conquistador. Pizarro was illegitimate and illiterate, and gave up pig herding for a chance for fame and fortune in the New World.  He got both.

By the way, the correct answer to the famous riddle, "Who's buried in Grant's tomb?" is no one.  Technically speaking.  Both Ulysses S. Grant and his wife, Julia Dent Grant, are entombed, not buried in the Manhattan tomb.  The question was made popular by Groucho Marx, who asked it on his show You Bet Your Life so that a contestant who couldn't get anything right would win something.  He accepted the answer "Grant".
Unless otherwise noted, all images courtesy of flickr.

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