Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Aldea of Tulor

Located just ten kilometers outside of San Pedro de Atacama, the archaeological ruins of Tulor, a small pre-Columbian village gives a glimpse into the area’s past. The village was first discovered in 1956 by Gustavo le Paige but more was uncovered through excavations made in 1982 by archaeologist Ana Maria Barone. Since then it has had a tumultuous story. In 1998 the World Monuments Fund, an international non-profit organization, listed Tulor on its World Monuments Watch List of 100 Most Endangered Sites. Unfortunately, the Chilean government did little to protect it and the site was re-listed in 2006. In 2009, the government, through the CorporaciĆ³n Nacional Forestal (CONAF) an environmental agency and in collaboration with the University of Antofagasta, initiated a project for the creation of a preservation plan for the ancient village. The project involved the installation of tourist facilities including signage and an information center and caps were installed to protect the ancient earthen walls against erosion. Unfortunately, in April 2010 the site was vandalized. According to Chile's Consejo de Monumentos Nacionales, this was the worst damage to the site in decades. A few months later, in November 2010 CONAF’s office at Tulor was set on fire. Now, under a new agreement, it is currently being administered jointly by the indigenous Community of Coyo, and CONAF and members of the Coyo community act as guides and historians for the village. We found our guide very knowledgeable and eager to help us understand this ancient culture. She told us that through radiocarbon and thermo-luminescence dating, the village is thought to have existed about 3,000 years ago with a population of between 150 and 200 inhabitants and is one of the oldest human settlements discovered on a salt bed. The people first came as hunters following animals down from the Andes. When the animals became scarce, they turned to gathering their food and basic farming. They spent their time weaving and making garments and producing ceramics while supporting themselves growing crops and raising livestock. They constructed their adobe buildings in a circular fashion joining one to the other with patios and passageways. The rooms were built with an arched ceiling that sometimes reached as high as two meters, finished off by a conical roof supported by wooden poles. The site, which had numerous circular adobe structures surrounded by a perimeter wall, was abandoned around 300 AD, when the river oasis dried up and the dunes advanced. The original village is long gone but they have reconstructed a few homes along the lines of the originals. When we entered one of the houses it was surprising how cool it is and how they were designed to capture as much daylight as possible. Fortunately via a footbridge, there is a viewpoint that allows visitors to view the ruins from above to see the formation of the walls, the layout of rooms for living, sleeping and cooking and the communal rooms for gatherings. Because the village was buried in sand for centuries, most of the village is miraculously conserved, yet since its discovery little has been done to preserve the area. As a result there is ongoing damage to the archaeological remains through erosion, sand encroachment and lack of maintenance. Unlike many of the more commercial ruins – like the many Inca and Mayan – these ruins have a sense of remoteness and vulnerability and unfortunately unless policy changes, the Aldea of Tulor will become as obsolete as the people who once inhabited it. The village is an open air museum and anyone who enjoys archaeological and cultural sites will definitely like this one.

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