Friday, December 27, 2013

El Brujo Archaeological Complex. Peru

Leaving Huanchaco, our drive today is only 45 mile (70 km) up the coast to a group of ruins collectively called the El Brujo Archaeological Complex which consists of three temples – Huaca Prieta, Huaca El Brujo and Huaca Cao Viejo, with Huaca Cao Viejo being the best preserved. We arrived at the complex late; due to the fact we left Huanchaco late. So, bypassing Huaca Cao where the visitor’s center is now closed, we drove towards the beach and the other huacas, mainly looking for a level area to park overnight. After driving the entire complex, we settled on a spot right on the ocean, in the shadow of Huaca El Brujo. It was quiet for the night and thanks to the total lack of electricity and a clear night, the stars were amazing. The next morning, our first stop is at El Brujo. The guided dirt path takes us up a hill and since there were no signs, we allowed Winston to come along but on leash. At the top of the path, we can see where the archaeologists have cut into the temple to display the adobe brick work of the Moche. No other excavation work has been done at this site, so after taking a few photos, we head to Huaca Prieta. Before the Spanish, before the Inca, before the Chimu and even before the Moche, there was the Prieta Culture. The prehistoric settlement was occupied from between 3100 to 1800 BC. From what archaeologists have studied, there is quite a lot now known about the Prieta people. They are accredited to being the first of the Peruvian agriculturists and in addition to fishing were responsible for the early domesticated cultivation of chili peppers and maize. From soil analysis this culture probably lived in semi-subterranean houses made with stone and clay and covered with whale bones. Unfortunately, it is infinitely more interesting to read about than to see, as due to exposure to erosion, there is nothing remaining but a large mound of stones and ash with nothing left to be restored. The views from the top of the mound though of the surrounding area make the climb worthwhile. The last huaca Cao Viejo, like El Brujo is a temple from the Moche period who reigned up until the Chimu conquered them in the seventh century AD. Looking at the huacas it is hard to imagine a once grand city. It is a challenge that greets any visitor to an archaeological site, but at the El Brujo complex, it’s even more complicated. The Prieta and Moche built their pyramids with adobe bricks, and because of erosion, particularly during El Niño years, the buildings simply washed away. Today, they look more like half-washed-away sandcastles or dirt mounds rather than the towering palaces they once were. Although the ruins don’t look like much on the outside through careful excavation and ongoing preservation work, they have found some remarkable artifacts and uncovered some amazing friezes on many of the interior walls. Due to the objects found, these temples are believed to have been primarily ceremonial burial centers rather than populated towns. However, as the top layers of the pyramids washed down onto the lower levels, they sealed them in, protecting them from the elements. This proved irresistible to grave-robbers and the Spanish colonists who founded a settlement nearby with the main goal of extracting as much of the Moche gold as possible out of Huaca El Brujo and Huaca Cao Viejo. They left huge gashes in both buildings, but fortunately they also left a lot of undiscovered riches behind. The temple wall on Cao Viejo which rises up five stories above the main ceremonial plaza is where human sacrifices were performed in front of onlookers, gladiator style. 1700-year old murals, still plainly visible, are carved into the tiers in the form of a narrative. On one tier, warriors march in a row. On another, a Moche warrior is shown leading ten naked prisoners bound together by a rope around their neck. And yet another portrays the captured soldiers being led to where their blood would be offered to the gods. In addition to the images of sacrifice, other painted and carved murals have been uncovered including mythical creatures, sailing scenes and animals. The greatest discovery at the site, however, was made by an archaeological team in 2006. In a tomb high up the side of the pyramid, researchers investigating an elaborately-painted burial chamber found the mummified remains of a fourth-century Moche ruler. What surprised the researchers was that the remains belonged to a woman. 1500 years before South America had its first female president, the Dama de Cao (or Señora de Cao) ruled from this pyramid. Over the last few years, her story has spread far and wide: a replica of her mummy has toured the world, and National Geographic ran a widely-publicized documentary about her. Yet the Dama de Cao’s resting place is a small museum located at the base of the pyramid. This museum with many of the priceless artifacts found at the sites and the burial chamber where the mummy is displayed along with the numerous objects found with it, is well worth the time spent visiting here. The artifacts are displayed in a linear date manner, with the earliest objects from Prieta shown first and then the later ones, most in perfect condition and makes understanding the advancement of the cultures easy to follow. And the final room, the burial chamber of the Dama de Cao, is far from ghoulish even though her skeleton body is the first thing you see. Very thoughtful and well laid out; the museum definitely captures the imagination. As we leave the ruins, there is a nice breeze from the ocean, but the sun is strong and after walking Winston, we continue our drive. Our goal is to get to Chiclayo which is further up the coast. We have one more set of ruins to visit before finding a surf beach to hang out for a few days.

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