The spiritual afterlife of dogs in Peru

The spiritual afterlife of dogs in Peru

The evidence continues to mount that ancient Peruvians who lived in and around present  day Lima were serious dog lovers. Archaeologists announced that they had discovered the remains of 10 dogs, along with two black guinea pigs and a tattooed woman at the Huaca El Rosal ruins located inside Parque de las Leyendas, Lima’s large municipal zoo.

This adds to the find of 137 dogs, many buried alongside people, in the same archaeological zone between 2012 and 2013.

Chief archaeologist Lucénida Carrión Sotelo, told Radioprogramas that the canines belong to the  Ychsma culture, which dominated this stretch of Peru’s central coast from around 900 to 1470.

It’s just the latest, and largest, indication that dogs were considered a man’s best friend long before the Spanish Conquest in the 1530s. But not just man’s best friend.

The woman whose remains were found was 25 to 30 years old when she died,  Carrión Sotelo said. She had fish motif tattoos on her wrist and forearm. Guinea pigs were a common food, and a offering to Pachacamac deities that the Ychma culture venerated. And dogs were sacrificed as a companion to help Ychma people find their way after death.

“Definitely dogs were constant companions for human beings and they were guides for the afterlife,”  Carrión Sotelo said.

Among the canines previously found at Huaca El Rosal were  puppies, young adults and even some pregnant dogs. Many were complete specimens, with their bodies manipulated in a “resting posture” consistent with the funerary practices of the Ychma and earlier Lima cultures.

ancient_dog_remains_excavated_at_parque_de_las_leyendasIn 2006, archaeologists excavated another thousand-year-old pet cemetery just south of Lima, with 40 sheep dogs from the Chiribaya Culture. They were buried in warm blankets and even provided treats for the afterlife. In 2010, another six mummified dogs from the 15th century Inca period were discovered in one of the adobe temples at Pachacamac.  And in January 2013, another six Inca-era  pooches were found at Pachacamac, buried near the mummified remains of four children.

Professional dog-walker in Lima's Miraflores districtSo dogs were, and continue to be, exalted.

To this day in the Andes, there are indigenous people who believe that dogs play an important role in helping to usher the spirits of those who have died to travel across a turbulent river to the afterlife.

The waterway is known to some as the Map’a Mayu (“Dirty River”), and to others as the River Jordan or Yawar Mayu (“River of Blood”).

There, the spirit must enlist the help of a mystical black dog, a spiritual agent known as a Lázaro, to lead it over a bridge of woven human hair, called the Achacaca, to reach the other side, where the ancestors dwell.

That’s the afterlife of dogs in Peru. For the living canines, it’s an even more complex story, especially in last thirty years.

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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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