Ruins vs. the archaeological complexes: How they’re getting it right with the Moche Temples

Ruins vs. the archaeological complexes: How they’re getting it right with the Moche Temples

“It is said that when the anthropologists arrive, the gods depart. In my opinion, something similar happens with reconstructors of archaeological sites. Imagination is crushed; the mystery, the allure and the enchantment depart. (Many archaeologists would add: and with them goes a lot of irreplaceable information; for these are sites that can no longer be studied in their particulars.)”

— Peter Frost, Exploring Cusco

The manicured granite complexion of Machu Picchu is the iconic image most frequently associated with Peru around the world.

Despite its popular reputation as a pristine, intact archaeological  complex, people are surprised to learn that many of the outlying buildings of Machu Picchu were in fact collapsed piles of stone in July 1911, when Hiram Bingham first reached the site.

Masterfully interlocking Inca masonry was covered, penetrated and upended by dense vegetation, thick vines and trees that took root during centuries of abandonment.

Bingham cleared the site during his renowned 1911 and 1912 expeditions. Over ensuing decades, those same structures were repeatedly shored up.

That was the case before and after the earthquake that devastated Cusco in 1950, and particularly during the 1970s, when Peru embarked on a wholesale tidying up of many of the country’s major archaeological complexes throughout the country.

Huaca de la Luna ceremonial plaza wallThis is not the case in the more recently excavated sites, however. The Moche Kingdoms route along Peru’s northern coast is a prime example, and one archaeological gem that stands out is the Huaca de La Luna.

“One of the policies of this archaeological project is that we reconstruct absolutely nothing,” says Dr. Henry Gayoso, the archaeologist in charge of the curatorial content at the site. “Reconstruction: zero. Conservation: everything we can possibly conserve.”

Here, visitors tread over elaborately laid scaffolds, an arms reach from incredibly well-preserved murals and bas-relief carvings depicting mythical creatures, anthropomorphic deities and sacrificial religious rituals framed by intricate geometric borders.

German archaeologist Max Uhle initiated studies of the complex in 1899, but the massive temple went largely ignored for much of the 20th century.

Studies resumed in 1991 and determined that temple was the main center of Moche religious authority from around from about 100 to 600 C.E. (Common Era).

Archaeologist Dr. Henry Gayoso“What you are seeing here is completely original,  in comparison to other sites like Chan Chan, which unfortunately underwent a strong policy of reconstruction in the 1970s,” Gayoso says.

That was also the case for the Aztec Pyramids of Mexico, he added. “Archaeology changes. The methods change. During that time, the correct thing to do was to reconstruct. But not now; not here.”

To be continued….


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Authored by: Rick Vecchio

Rick Vecchio, Fertur’s director of development and marketing, was educated at the New School for Social Research and Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. He worked for Pacifica Radio WBAI and as a daily reporter for newspapers in New Jersey, New York and Massachusetts. Then in 1996, he decided it was time to realize a life-long dream of traveling to Peru. He never went back. While serving as Peru country manager for the South American Explorers from 1997-1999, he fell in love with Fertur's founder, Siduith Ferrer, and they married. Over the next six years, he worked as a correspondent for The Associated Press. Meanwhile, Siduith built the business, which he joined in January 2007. Now he designs custom educational and adventure tour packages for corporate and institutional clients, oversees Fertur’s Internet platform and occasionally leads special trips, always with an eye open for a good story to write about.

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