Category Archives: PERU

Archaeologists Sign Petition Protesting the Construction of a Machu Picchu Airport

Archaeologists Say New Airport Near Machu Picchu “Would Destroy It”

The Incan citadel of Machu Picchu in Peru is one of the world’s most stunning pieces of engineering, and a hypnotizing, historical remnant of a mystical past.

Nestled in the Andes at around 8,000 feet, the government is now planning to boost the lucrative tourism it draws annually even more — by building a multibillion-dollar international airport nearby, which critics are adamant “would destroy it.”

The Unesco World Heritage Site is traditionally reached by taking a flight to the Cusco airport 46 miles away, which only has one runway. From there, visitors usually continue by train or by hiking through the Sacred Valley.

With more than 1.5 million visitors to the sacred site in 2017 — nearly twice what Unesco recommends to protect it — transportation to the ancient ruins is getting more crowded every year. Construction on the profitable corporate venture is already underway. Bulldozers are clearing millions of tons of earth in Chinchero, which is 12,500 feet above sea level and the gateway for the Sacred Valley.

Cusco airport has sufficed to facilitate Machu Picchu’s annual tourism, but some feel a multibillion-dollar airport could boost the economy. Critics argue it would merely lead to more risk of destruction of the site.

Archaeologists, historians, locals, and activists are in utter disbelief, however, as the airport would bring push the region even further beyond its visitor capacity and put a huge strain on the regional ecology.

“This is a built landscape; there are terraces and routes which were designed by the Incas,” Natalia Majluf, a Peruvian art historian at Cambridge University, told The Guardian. “Putting an airport here would destroy it.”

Machu Picchu in 1912, after the site, was cleared and before major reconstruction work began. Hiram Bingham III, who rediscovered the site in 1911, took this photo

South Korean and Canadian companies are preparing to bid on the construction project, which would provide direct flight access from major American and South American cities. The tiny town of Chinchero is reportedly hurrying to build new houses and hotels in anticipation of the incoming flood of tourists.

But for critics — who seem to have nothing but the sanctity and protection of this 15th-century site in mind — there are far more important matters at hand. This area was once home to the world’s largest empire, and jeopardizing its integrity for profit is simply unacceptable to countless academics.

“It seems ironic and in a way contradictory that here, just 20 minutes from the Sacred Valley, the nucleus of the Inca culture, they want to build an airport — right on top of exactly what the tourists have come here to see,” said Pablo Del Valle, a Cusco-based anthropologist. Should the airport be completed and function as intended, planes would make low flyovers over Ollantaytambo — a 134 square-mile archaeological park — and likely cause priceless damage to the Incan ruins.

The 134-square-mile town and archaeological park of Ollantaytambo. The new airport would result in low flyovers, potentially causing priceless damage.

Other critics are more focused on the Lake Piuray watershed being depleted during the airport’s construction, costing the city of Cusco half its water supply. The petition, which Majluf took upon herself to start, asks Peruvian President Martín Vizcarra to re-assess this project — or choose a different spot.

“I don’t think there’s any significant archaeologist or historian working in the Cusco area that hasn’t signed the petition,” said Majluf. Chinchero was built as a royal estate for Incan ruler Túpac Inca Yupanqui, about 600 years ago. The area is extremely well-preserved and offers an unquantifiable wealth of direct contact with a time long gone. Many of the structures in Machu Picchu befuddle archaeologists to this day.

The Incas built storehouses at high altitudes in order to preserve their grain better. It’s theorized that grain was tipped in the uphill window, and retrieved from the downhill window. These were called Pinkuyllunas.

The economy here is largely dependent on tourism and farming. As such, it’d be surprising if those desperate for more customers would oppose a big modern airport next door — but they do. Alejandrina Contreras a blanket-weaver who lives in Chincero, said, “We live peacefully here, there are no thieves, there are no criminals. There will be progress with the airport but a lot of things will change.”

“Think of the noise, the air pollution, the illnesses it will bring,” said 20-year-old Karen Auccapuma.

This project has actually already been delayed, as the private company who had the winning bid became entangled in price-hike and corruption allegations. Unfortunately, arbitration on the current business model has been settled — and the government is eager to complete construction by 2023.

“This airport will be built as soon as possible because it’s very necessary for the city of Cusco,” Carlos Oliva, Peru’s finance minister, suggested. “There’s a series of technical studies which support this airport’s construction.”

Naturally, there is local appeal for the project. Citizens have been regaled with the promise of 2,500 construction jobs, while the local land has increased in value so much that some have begun selling their properties for a pretty penny. Peasant families have changed their lives by selling farmland. Cusco Mayor Luis Cusicuna claimed local leaders have been desperate for a second, larger airport for decades.

The Incan site is “so singularly dominant for the Peruvian tourism offering,” said Mark Rice, author of Making Machu Picchu: The Politics of Tourism in Twentieth-Century Peru. “The best way I can describe it is if people going to Britain only went to Stonehenge.”

Rice explained that there’s “legitimate concern that Cusco’s travel infrastructure is at its limit,” however. So while the proposal has a rational backbone — in terms of business, at least — it most definitely will cause a “lot of damage to one of the key tourism offerings of Cusco, which is its scenic beauty.”

The world-famous terrace steps at Machu Picchu were used for farming. They also ensured effective drainage, soil fertility, and protected the mountain from landslides and erosion. They appear simple, but are a stunning feat of Inca engineering.

Unesco recently threatened the Peruvian government that it was prepared to remove Machu Picchu from its list, and place it on the list of world heritage sites in danger, instead. In response, Peru narrowed entry requirements, such as limiting visits to certain times of the day.

At this very moment, however, the nascent airport project is causing new houses, hotels, and buildings to be constructed in the area. Everyone is preparing to make this a lucrative endeavor while throwing caution to the Incan wind.

World’s Biggest Mass Child Sacrifice Discovered In Peru, with 140 Killed in ‘Heart Removal’ Ritual

World’s Biggest Mass Child Sacrifice Discovered In Peru, with 140 Killed in ‘Heart Removal’ Ritual

Skeletons at the sacrifice site showed evidence to suggest their chests had been cut open and their hearts removed.
Skeletons at the sacrifice site showed evidence to suggest their chests had been cut open and their hearts removed.

The largest child sacrifice on record took place after a torrential rainfall, when about 140 children and 200 young llamas likely had their hearts ripped out by the ancient Chimú culture in A.D. 1450, in what is now Peru.

The reason for the sacrifice, however, remains a mystery, according to a new study. Even so, the scientists of the study have several ideas. For instance, heavy rainfall and flooding from that year’s El Niño weather pattern may have prompted Chimú leaders to order the sacrifice, but without more evidence, we’ll likely never know the real reason, said study co-researcher John Verano, a professor in the Department of Anthropology at Tulane University in New Orleans.

Study lead researcher Gabriel Prieto, an assistant professor in archaeology at the National University of Trujillo, Peru, learned about the sacrificial site in 2011 after a father approached him while he was doing fieldwork on another project.

The father described a nearby dune with bones poking out of it. The father said, “Look, my kids are bringing bones back every day, and I’m tired of it,” said Verano, who later joined the project in 2014. Once at the dune, Prieto immediately realized that the site had archaeological significance, and he and his colleagues have been working on it since, excavating and studying the human and llama (Lama glama) remains at the site, known as Huanchaquito-Las Llamas.

“It’s the largest child sacrifice event in the archaeological record anywhere in the world,” Verano said. “And it’s the largest sacrifice with llamas in South America. There’s nothing like this anywhere else.

“Who were the victims?

The site holds the remains of at least 137 boys and girls and 200 llamas. Many of the children and the llamas had cut marks on their sterna, or breastbones, as well as displaced ribs, suggesting that their chests had been cut open, perhaps to extract the heart, the researchers wrote in the study.

The children ranged in age from 5 to 14 and were generally in good health, according to an analysis of their bones and teeth. These youngsters were wrapped in cotton shrouds and buried either on their backs with extended legs, on their backs with flexed legs or and resting on one side with flexed legs.

Many were buried in groups of three and placed from youngest to oldest. Some had red cinnabar paint (a natural form of mercury) on their faces, and others, especially the older children, wore cotton headdresses.

The llamas were either laid next to or on top of the children’s bodies. In many cases, llamas of different colors (brown and beige) were buried together, but facing different directions. Also buried at the site, near the children’s remains, were the bodies of two women and a man.

An archaeologist excavates one of the sacrificed children.
An archaeologist excavates one of the sacrificed children.

An archaeologist excavates one of the sacrificed children.
An archaeologist excavates one of the sacrificed children.
These adults do not have cut marks on their sterna, suggesting their hearts weren’t removed. Rather, one woman likely died from a blow to the back of the head and another suffered from blunt force trauma to her face. The man had rib fractures, but it wasn’t clear whether these injuries happened before or after death, possibly due to the weight of the rocks that were placed over his body, the researchers said.

The children weren’t buried with any discernible offerings, but the researchers did find a pair of ceramic jars and wooden paddles on the edge of the site, next to a single llama.

What happened?

The Chimú culture dominated a large part of the Peruvian coast from the 11th to 15th century. It thrived, in part, because of its intensive agriculture; the Chimú watered their crops and livestock with a sophisticated web of hydraulic canals, the researchers wrote in the study.

This area is typically dry, drizzling only a few times a year. But it’s possible an extreme El Niño event, when warm water evaporates from the southern Pacific and falls as torrential rain on Peru’s coast, caused havoc in the society, not only flooding the Chimú’s lands but also driving away or killing marine life off the coast, Verano said.

Evidence shows that when the children and llamas were sacrificed, the area was sodden with water, even capturing human and animal footprints in the muck that still exist today. It’s unclear why this particular site, located almost 1,150 feet (350 meters) from the coast about 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) north of the city of Chan Chan, was chosen for the sacrifice, but researchers have some idea for why the children were chosen.

Children are often seen as innocent beings who aren’t yet full members of society, and thus might be viewed as appropriate gifts or messengers to the gods, Verano said. Moreover, these children were not all locals. Some of the children had experienced head shaping, and an analysis of carbon and nitrogen isotopes (an isotope is a variation of an element) in their remains showed that these kids came from different regions and ethnic groups within the Chimú state, the researchers found.

It’s unclear why their hearts were removed, but “worldwide, everyone is aware that the heart is a very dynamic organ,” Verano said. “You can feel and hear it beating. It’s very vital. If you take the heart out, a lot of blood comes out and the person dies.”Today, some people in the Peruvian highlands and Bolivia still remove the hearts from sacrificed llamas, Verano noted.

Sometimes the removed heart is burned and the animal’s blood gets splashed on places like mines, a measure thought to protect the workers within. However, it’s unknown how the Chimú viewed and treated hearts in antiquity, Verano said. The children’s remains are now safely stored by Peru’s Ministry of Culture, and the researchers have submitted permits so they can continue to study them, Verano said.

The discovery shows “the importance of preserving cultural patrimony and archaeological material,” Verano said. “If we had had not dug this, it would probably be destroyed now by a housing and urban expansion. So we’ve saved a little chapter of prehistory.”The study is “an incredible insight into the ritual and sacrificial practices of the Chimú kingdom,” said Ryan Williams, a curator, professor and head of anthropology at The Field Museum in Chicago, who has worked as a South American archaeologist for more than 25 years.

He added that while human sacrifice is reviled in our modern society, “we have to remember that the Chimú had a very different world view than Westerners today. They also had very different concepts about death and the role each person plays in the cosmos,” Williams, who was not involved with the study. Given that the sacrifice may have been in response to devastating floods, “perhaps the victims went willingly as messengers to their gods, or perhaps Chimú society believed this was the only way to save more people from destruction,” Williams said.