5.14.2006

chiclayo, day two

Oops, almost forgot!

temperature: 23 C / 73 F
elevation: 34 m / 112 ft

Also, my apologies to Chiclayanos for yesterday´s misinformation. Chiclayo is not a colonial city, it is a Republican city, meaning it was founded when Peru was already an independent country. Peru´s independence from Spain dates to 1821; Chiclayo's Plaza de Armas was built in 1916.

* * * *

Lucky us, at the very end of the trip and still seeing fascinating things.

Today we took a tour of El Museo Tumbas Reales Sipan, the Museum of the Royal Tombs of Sipan. The royal Moche burial sites of Sipan were discovered only in 1987, after previously unknown pre-Columbian artefacts started turning up on the underground market. There´s a modern-day wild-west story that follows huaqeros (grave robbers) from Peru to Miami to Philadelphia, involving the FBI, some unusually honest Peruvian police, at least one murder, and tales of intrigue that landed on two National Geographic magazine covers.

Fortunately for us, huaqeros are greedier than they are smart, and they never recognized what was in front of their eyes. A confession led archeologist Dr Walter Alva to the site, where the thieves had destroyed and looted one grave, but left 13 others intact, including the Señor of Sipan, or the Lord of Sipan. They were only a few metres away from the Señor's grave, but when they found a huge mess of pottery, they gave up. The quantity and placement of the pottery told the archeologists that a very important person was buried very nearby.

Intact graves bear incredibly rich fruit, laden with information about the civilization that built them. These graves were rich in every sense: they were full of gold, silver, and copper ornaments, and perfectly intact pottery and jewelry. And because their discovery was so recent, the restoration could be done right - Peruanos were involved in every process, and the treasures stayed where they were found. In fact, Peruvian students went to Spain and Germany for training in metal restoration, and now northern Peru is an internationally reknowned centre for that science.

The museum itself is the best in Peru, and said to be one of the top archeological museums of the world. The presentation is state-of-the-art. Even the building itself is designed to evoke a Moche pyramid.

It´s located in Lambayeque, outside of Chiclayo. Although Chiclayo is not on the standard tour circuit (luckily for us, but unhappily for the people of this region), I highly recommend a visit if you go to Peru. All the signage is in Spanish, but even if you read Spanish, a guide or a detailed book is very helpful, to put the whole presentation into context.

In the museum, we saw Moche pottery that illustrates all the animals and symbols of their culture, incredibly expressive and distinctive designs that were mass produced from molds. (Google Moche pottery to see these designs. They are easily recognizable by their distinctive spouted handles.)

There´s an incredible wealth of jewelry and ornamentation, all perfectly cleaned and restored to their original state, with no added reproductions. There were mountains of gold, but gold wasn´t particularly valuable, as it was plentiful in the Amazon River. Copper was more valuable, as it had to be mined, and most valuable of all were certain kinds of sea shells, since the Moche venerated the ocean. All the work was amazingly detailed and intricate, with certain repeating motifs that tell stories about the culture.

The Lord of Sipan was buried with his wife, two concubines, his young son, two soldiers, two llamas (no longer found in this area), a dog, and a soldier to guard them all, along with an unbelievable amount of riches. The artefacts in the tomb, their placement, the manner of burial, and all such details yielded so much information about the Moche.

The museum houses everything contained in three graves - that of the Señor, the Priest, and El Viejo Señor, the old Lord, which DNA testing has shown to be the Señor's great-grandfather - including the skeletons themselves. Cool factoid: the Señor had bone disease and his feet atrophied because he never walked - he was carried all his life. His teeth were strong from his high-calcium fish diet, but his feet and leg bones had deteriorated from lack of use.

Museo Tumbas Reales also shows how the graves were excavated (imagine digging 3 metres deep with tweezers!), and large colour photos of the sites in various stages of excavation.

Truly remarkable. We bought a beautiful book by Dr Alva about the site and the museum.

After a few hours at the Museum, we drove down rough roads, through ramshackle towns and tiny, poor pueblos, to the Sipan archeological site. The grave sites are there, with reproductions of what was found inside, so you can see the placement. (I also recommend visiting in this order, museum before site, as it provides wonderful context.)

The graves are beside what appears to be a mountain, but is really the remains of an adobe pyramid. We climbed up a short ways, and our guide pointed out the remains of many other pyramids in the area. They all look like small mountains or large hills. People are living on some of them. Unlike the Incas and the Mayans, who built with stone, the Moche built with adobe, and adobe could not withstand the forces of periodic El Niño phenomena.

Our guide, Arturo, was really a delight. His accent was a little difficult, but he slipped political comments into his narrative, including some wonderful digs at the US. How lucky to say we're from Canada, as I doubt he´d be so bold with Norteamericanos. (That´s what folks from the US are known as, by the way, Norteamericanos, which apparently does not include Canadians or Mexicans.)

After the tour, we asked the driver to leave us near a popular restaurant where Chiclayanos were chowing down for Mother´s Day. (Will this Mother´s Day never end? It´s a three-day celebration here!) We had delicious polla a la brasa (rotisserie chicken) and potatoes, then joined a crowd waiting for ice cream. The people in Chiclayo look comparatively well-off, decidedly middle class. Not so on the outskirts and certainly not in the little adobe pueblos, but there is obviously education and comfort within the northern cities themselves.

Tomorrow morning (Monday) we fly to Lima, and our flight to NYC is not until late Tuesday night. When we planned the trip, I didn´t realize that you don´t really need that much time in Lima. We considered moving our return up a day, which would still give us a full 12 hours more in Lima, and also would give Allan an extra recuperation day before returning to work, but it was prohibitively expensive. So we'll spend time in the seaside neighbourhoods of Miraflores and Barranco, and not go into the downtown area at all. Miraflores is where all the restaurants, upscale shopping and nightlife is; Barranco is supposed to be a relaxed, funky, artist's and writer's enclave.

A few pictures from Sipan here. Unfortunately, the best part is in el museo and not photographable. But you can see the outside of the Museum, and a bit of the actual grave sites.

4 comments:

redsock said...

Auturo the guide said that in one of the Moche ceremonies, the King drinks from a goblet of human blood.

He said people often say "Yeew, that's cannibalism" but he noted that many cultures have a similar tradition. For example, Catholics symbolically eat the body and drink the blood of Christ.

Auturo: "Does that make me a cannibal? I don't know. ... I know of only one Christian cannibal and he lives in Washington."

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

James said...

For example, Catholics symbolically eat the body and drink the blood of Christ.

Not symbolically. According to the Catholic theology of Transubstantiation, the bread and wine really become divine flesh and blood (though it's divine flesh and blood that tastes like bread and wine).

Most non-Catholic Christian religions consider the Eucharist to be symbolic, though.

Wrye said...

I submit that the vast majority of Catholics view it as symbolic, papal degree or no. Just as most Catholics were ahead of the papal curve on the whole pardoning Galileo thing.

L-girl said...

I think most Catholics probably view it as symbolic, too. At least in Western countries.

Arturo didn´t say symbolically, though, for what it´s worth.