Preserving Ancient Peru

cuzco peruWe know that without museums we risk losing vital information about the culture, traditions and lifestyles of our ancestors. This is especially true in places like Peru, where Silvia Rodrigues discovered that natural history museums are piecing together the lives of those who no longer have a voice…

“Included in the many highlights of my Intrepid Peru trip were visits to the obscure museums that you find around the country. Fascinating keepers of precious artefacts of Inca and pre-Inca cultures, such as the Paracas, Tiwanaku and Nazcas.

A lot is said about the Inca civilisation, but their history, as well as that of their ancestors, is still relatively unknown due to the lack of written manuscripts. Gaining a better insight of their culture and practices is a laborious task. Gathering fragments of pottery, fabrics, carved wooden figures and small zoomorphic silver or gold figures is like piecing together like an archaeological jigsaw.

When visiting Ica, near Pisco, you should visit the regional museum, which holds a fine collection of artefacts from the different communities that have inhabited the area. The museum is small but well laid out, showing how the different cultures from the region developed. The textiles from the Paracas culture are well conserved and very beautiful, and the Nazca ceramics are superb.

One of the main attractions of the museum is their collection of mummies. From the Paracas and Nazcas to the Waris, you can see it all. The mummies are very well preserved and if you check them closely, you can still see the details of the skin and the eyelashes. One thing you’ll surely notice are the long dread-locks! There are also many examples of skull deformation and trepanation from the Nazca and Paracas cultures, showing the differences between the two. The trophy skulls, worn on a rope around the victor’s waist, are particularly interesting, though not for the faint-hearted or squeamish.

Another museum worth a visit is Museum of Andean Sanctuaries (Museo de Santuarios Andinos), in Arequipa. They hold possibly the most spectacular mummy of them all: Juanita. Juanita is believed to have been a child sacrifice to the Apu gods (the mountains). She was possibly an offering to “placate their anger”, as severe drought or other weather extremes were once interpreted as signs of anger from the gods, and thus a more important sacrifice than the usual chicha or animals was required.

A young child of 13 or 14 years at most, Juanita appears to be a virgin from a noble family, considering the fabrics used to cover her and the different artefacts found within her mummy-bundle, such as small gold llamas, small silver vicunas and a small golden doll. She was taken on a long journey, possibly from Cusco, all the way up the Ampato Apu, where she was killed by a single blow on the right side of her head, that left hardly any marks on the outside. Luckily for her, Juanita was kept fasting before being fed chicha and coca leaves, which suggests she could have already been unconscious when the deadly blow hit her head.

Juanita was left in her tomb atop of Ampato Apu and only discovered about 500 years later, when an eruption of the nearby Sabancay volcano dislodged her frozen body.

Juanita is beautiful, delicate, and is kept frozen by the museum. She is only on display for 8 months of the year. Her hair, eyelashes, little hands clasped around her knees – everything is so innocent about her. Her angelic, mummified facial expression is a picture that won’t fade easily from my memories.”

Tour Peru with Intrepid on trips like these great small group adventures:
Homeland of the Incas – 21 days
Majestic Peru – 15 days

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* photo by Agnes Samour – Intrepid Photography Competition

About the author

Sue Elliot - Like many of us, Sue contracted a serious travel bug at an early age. She's visited over 90 countries in search of a cure, but her wanderlust just seems to get worse. Thankfully at Intrepid Travel she's amongst people who understand the affliction and since 1998 Sue has enjoyed being our blog and newsletter editor. Here you'll find helpful travel advice and inspiring tales from Sue and other Intrepid travellers.

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1 comments

Christian Friborg / Reply

Great article. Very, very interesting. I wish to visit Museum of Andean Sanctuaries and explore Peru someday. I’m looking forward to it.

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