Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Fieldtrip to El Aspero

Last Saturday we went down to Vegeta to check out the remains of a pre-ceramic civilization called Vichama. On Monday this week we went with one of Grace's visiting friends to our local archaeological wonder at El Aspero. Both are very much archaeological digs in process and leave you with more questions than answers as far as what this Caral-Supe civilization was like.


El Aspero boasts more dead bodies and more pyramids than Vichama, but since El Aspero used to be the site of the local garbage dump and is partly covered by a stubborn farmer's cane and corn fields, it is a little worse for the wear. One of the pyramids has been dynamited by treasure-hunters looking for gold, and one of them was smashed nearly in half by an ignorant bulldozer many years ago.


Where Vichama is said to be an agricultural community, and Caral a priestly community; El Aspero is thought to be a fishing port.




El Aspero is significantly less tourist-friendly than Vichama and Puerto lacks the museum that Vegeta has established. A big part of that is political dischord and personal conflict that gets worked in to the professional world. Grace and Cesar have made various attempts to push for more funding or recognition for El Aspero because of their interest in community development here in Puerto, but blood feuds and political favors die hard. El Aspero has waited patiently thus far, first submerged under tons of actual garbage, and hopefully it won't have to wait much longer to emerge from this socio-political refuse as well. The discoveries that have already been made in this particular Caral-Supe settlement are truly remarkable and ought to be broadcasted.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Fieldtrip to Vichama

On Saturday we went to one of the nearby archeological sites to play tourist. The desert coast of Peru actually has many such pre-ceramic/pre-Inca cities. It's quite remarkable because the inhabitants of these cities did not have metal tools or ceramic articles but were able to build cities and societies of differing social levels complete with a division of labor system. The ones in our area are called "Caral Supe". I actually visited Caral two years ago during my study abroad trip to Peru and hopefully will be able to visit more nearby sites as time allows.

 

Ruth Shady is credited with discovering many of the nearby sites in the last 20 years. Puerto's own (El Aspero) is seven years old while Vichama turned five on Saturday. Because of the anniversary, our trip included a tour and then we were treated to a variety show. We heard some music that reminded me of American Bluegrass, but classier because it is played on a harp. Harps make anything classy.  There was a craft show, cooking competition, and the following:

Cultural reinactment

More cultural reinactment: this doesn't actually have any basis in fact, they are just imagining a culture.

The Marinero: a traditional Peruvian dance from the coast that has become something of a cultural icon and has become very competitive.

 
The marinero + horses: the woman spins and dances while the man rides around her, weaving in and out at high speeds. Talk about nerves of steele.

The people of Vichama were most likely farmers and established their big pyramid-shaped buildings on the hills overlooking sea and farmland. One of the unique things about their architecture is that in addition to the more standard rock walls, they also used walls made from woven reed bags that were filled with rocks and then tied together. This eliminated the need for cement. Granted, their architecture is blocky and chunky- seemingly made to inspire awe and intimidate rather than be particularly graceful. What is truly remarkable is that advancement of this culture and the fact that they achieved trade with pre-incan cultures way up in the Andes and even farther into the jungle. Other than a few tidbits they are largely a mystery.



Note my marvelous wind-swept do.
Note the reed fibers from the bags used for construction.


Because the site was only discovered recently, a lot of damage has been done to it. A water tank on top of one of the hills leaked on the buildings below, helping them decompose faster than sea salt and sandy wind alone. Additionally buildings have been placed near to, if not on, the ancient hills. Looters and treasure hunters don't help either.

As of yet there is not a ton to see, but what is there leaves the visitor with a thirst for more- What were these people like? How was their culture? Where did they come from? Hopefully time will tell; if not, the cultural reinactors are doing a pretty thorough job of making things up.