Huaca, huaca, hauca!

Trip Start Jan 23, 2008
Trip End May 23, 2008

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Flag of Peru  ,
Saturday, March 29, 2008

There is more to Peruvian archeology than Incas! Along the northern coast of Peru, the primary pre-Incan civilization was the Moche. Moche settlements were located in each of the river valleys draining the eastern Andes, and were separated by wide expanses of desert.

The Moche built large pyramids made of adobe, where they conducted rituals, buried their dead, administered their kingdom, and housed their elite. These areas were referred to as huacas, or sacred sites. Because the pyramids were made from adobe (rather then stone like Incan or Aztec structures) many have lost some of their original integrity. Actually, many of them look like big mud piles today. And there quite a few big mud piles scattered across the landscape, each one an unexplored archeological site. Pretty impressive once you realize what you are looking at!

Fortunately, the dry desert climate and drifting sands worked together to preserve some of the pyramids, and archeologists have gone to the trouble to undo all that work so that we can see into the life of the Moche.

We visited two such sites, Sipan and the Huacas del Sol y Luna. The two sites`provided quite distinct insights into Moche culture as well as archeological experiences.

First we visited the Sipan site. These pyramids were quite eroded, partly because this area normally receives slightly higher rainfall and partly because some big El Niņos did a number on them in 1983 and 1997. But archeologists did find burial tombs and it is the contents of the tombs and not the architecture that makes Sipan stand out.

A tomb might contain several people:
Very important corpse (Lord or Preist)
Guard (with feet cut off so their corpse could not flee)
Clay fuigurines to represent friends and neighbors (thus sparing their lives)

The tombs also contained seashells, pottery, and treasure. Lots and lots of treasure. Treasure consists of gold, siver, and copper ornamentation. Crowns, necklaces, belts, earrings, sheilds, tunics. These guys had a LOT of precious ornamentation and it had a LOT of amazing craftsmanship and detail...and they took it with em. While some was found and plundered by graverobbers, most has been recovered and painstakingly restored.

So after the visit to the mud pile city, we headed to the museum where the original mummies and treasures are on display. The musueum itself is perhaps one of the best I have ever visited. The musuem itself is built in the form of a Moche pyramid, and as you wind your way from the top to the bottom, the layout, lighting, and interpretive signage is altogether very very effective.

Of course, thousands of years of human habitation has grown up around the huacas. Here are a few scenes from another site where present day civilization encroaches on the site where archeologists are exploring past civilization.

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