Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Mummies or daddies

Photograph Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty images
Arguably one of Tello´s greatest contributions to archaeology was his work at Chavin de Huantar, and his travels frequently took him through the beautiful Callejón de Huaylas in the mountains of Ancash. The stunning landscape is home to some equally picturesque inhabitants that Hernan delights in describing in the Anecdotes. 

Hernan loved to poke fun at small town manners and conventions. When I arrived in Peru´s capital city many years later things had changed. But when I stepped off the plane and found myself thrust into the heart of what was still, in some ways, a very conservative Andean family, there was still plenty of room for disaster.
Hernan´s hankering for a freer kind of life had launched him on the adventures I was reading about more than half a century later, and his sense of humour, which shone through in stories like this one, was a breath of fresh air.

It felt like I had found a kindred spirit.

Mummies or daddies
In which things get a little saucy at the home of the sisters

On one of his regular visits to the beautiful Huaylas canyon valley, Tello arrived at one of Ancash's many charming country towns. As always, the first thing he did was to set about finding any local archaeology aficionados.

On this occasion, the first people to hear about Tello's arrival were some local dignitaries who were very pleased to inform him that until recently there had lived in the town an historian who had amasses a sizable collection of ceremonial objects and mummies. And although sadly he was now deceased, on further enquiries as to the whereabouts o the collection, the little group quickly led Tello to the house where the historian's relatives lived. 

They came to a magnificent looking colonial house, very obviously dating back to the Spanish Viceroyalty, and struck the large door knocker. It was not long before the door was answered by a diminutive, and rather comical looking servant girl, who went to call the ladies of the house. 

The large house was suffused with that strange, almost monastic, calm that Andean colonial homes possess. But in thsi case, even more so. Indeed there was a veritable breath of sanctity about the place. From one of the rooms came a strong odour of incense, and when the historian's sisters eventually appeared, they were dressed in strict black mourning. one of them clasoed a rosary in her hands.

  “Señorita,” said the mayor stepping forward, “Please forgive us the intrusion. We have come to introduce the illustrious Dr Tello here who is very interested in your dear late brother’s archaeological collection.  Dr Tello, please allow me to introduce the Misses Garcia.”

The sisters interrupted the mayor’s preamble, “Delighted to meet you Dr Tello.”
So soft were the movements of the ladies and so delicate their voices. The only thing missing was their habits to transform them into nuns of longstanding years in the profession. 

The mayor continued: “As you may know Dr Tello has come to study our country’s wondrous history, and as your dear departed brother was one of our most admired local luminaries, and as he left such a collection of artefacts, he is very interested in seeing them.”

“But of course. It would be a great pleasure Dr Tello,” replied one of the sisters. “Amalia, bring me the bunch of keys that are at the foot of Saint Antony’s statue.

“My brother had a great fondness for all kinds of ceremonial pottery and for mummies and pre Inca ruins Doctor,” explained the eldest of the sisters whilst they awaited the keys.  “No-one has disturbed his study. All his work is just exactly as he left it.” She sniffed quietly. “We have no desire to go into his room. The pain is still so great on not finding him there”.

“Is it long since he passed away?”

“Oh no Doctor,” her voice exuded melancholy, “not long.”

She sighed again. “I don’t think we will ever recover from the pain of his death. But at the end it was God’s wish to take him and we submit humbly to his will.”

The servant girl returned with the keys and opened the door to the historian’s study. In truth, although the collection had a good number of the usual common artefacts, there were some very rare pieces indeed that immediately caught Tello’s attention. He began examining one of these carefully.
"Peruvian mummy" Emmanuelm, CC 3.0
Meanwhile one of the accompanying local officials spotted a pair of mummies that were seated on a table. Actually it wasn’t so much the mummies themselves that were the attraction.

 He couldn´t help staring at a rather specific part of each of them, although he was trying pointedly to avoid the suggestion of lascivious pleasures that those areas brought to mind.

The archaeologist himself, when he came to the mummies, betrayed no change in expression. 

But the official who had been staring at them so indiscreetly, could finally no longer contain his curiosity: “Dr Tello … is it possible to know the sex of mummies?”

The question had scarcely slipped out, and Tello had certainly had no time to respond, before the girlish voice of the tiny servant piped up from behind them. She had been following the conversation avidly, and was immediately able to dispel any doubts.

“Oh yes señor,” she pointed first at one of the mummies and then at the eldest of the sisters.

“This one is a man, my mistress checked him out. He’s got his little balls and everything”. She finished with a proud smile.

The Misses Garcia were struck by the proverbial thunderbolt. Stuttering and stammering, their genteel faces grew redder and redder. And when one of their distinguished visitors, unable to contain himself any longer, let out an undisguised giggle, they broke out into a sweat fit to burst.

As if nothing had happened, Tello proceeded, in his most gentlemanly manner, to answer the question, explaining in mercifully scientific terms all the ways in which one can determine the sex of a mummy.

He failed to allude, of course, to the obvious features which had first led to the official’s question. That would have been like mentioning the rope in the house of the hanged.

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