Monday, 15 December 2014

El Huaquero

Ancient artefacts that have gone walkabout all over the world are nowadays finding their way back home to museums where they can be enjoyed by everyone. Looted treasure, via unwitting explorers, local grave robbers and enterprising middlemen, can wind up in all sorts of places - from museums, to top end private collections, to the more humble dwellings of ordinary citizens.

In Peru, discoveries are made all the time in remote areas of a country where a rural population still struggles to make ends meet. Add to the mix a lack of trust in institutions, and it's easy for some to argue that there's nothing wrong with a 'pickings for all' approach.

To Tello the real value of an object was not the price it could fetch, but the story it would tell. Indeed his life was dedicated to bringing that story to the Peruvian people.  

He was pitted against looters of all types, as well as negligence and government indifference. Local tomb raiders posed a problematic dilemma .... whilst they were undoubtedly his sworn enemies, they could also help lead him to sites.

Silver and copper alloy headdress - Peru, 100-700 AD
 property of a Swiss gentleman acquired 1960 in the Paris art market. 
Vestervang House Auctions catalogue.

In this story Hernan tells of a chance encounter in the Casma valley which they hope can further their research. But science is not exactly uppermost in the mind of this particular local peasant.

El Huaquero 
In which an enthusiastic entrepreneur almosts gets more than he is bargaining for

Tello was in the Casma Valley one day, exploring every corner of the countryside and making notes on all the geographical features in order to make a detailed report, when we came across a small hut. The peasant who emerged from within could barely speak Spanish. Tello asked him for the names of all the nearby spots and landmarks, but he studiously ignored us, probably because we were strangers. Tello then decided to ask him if by any chance he had any artefacts
To his surprise the question had hardly left his lips when the peasant did an abrupt about turn, went into his hut and reemerged carrying a fine-looking silver bowl which, judging by its decoration was from the Mochica period. He had obviously cleaned it because it was shining. It was an interesting, if not very rare, piece.

Usually in these cases, grave robbers try to charge a fortune for whatever archaeological specimen they have, and so Tello’s tactic was always to feign disinterest, in order to keep the price as low as possible.

The man wanted one hundred soles for the bowl. Tello as usual showed no enthusiasm. But the peasant fancied himself as a bit of a salesman.  He returned to his hut and came out again after a while armed with a rough file.  Explaining that the bowl was of pure silver he proceeded to give it a few scrapes of the file to demonstrate the purity of the metal. Tello stared at him but remained calm. He tried to distract the man:
“No, I’m not interested, I don’t want it. But tell me … where are you from?”
“From Piscobamba patrón.”
“And have you seen any ancient ruins in Piscobamba I wonder. Are there any stones there with drawings on them?”

The man rubbed the file clumsily a few more times against the silver bowl’s fine embossed decoration, scraping some silver filings into the palm of his hand which he offered up to the archaeologist.
“Good pure silver this is patrón, fine silver, only a hundred soles to you. That’s a good price; you won’t find this every day patrón?”

Tello’s face was tense with frustration. He refused once more and questioned the man again about Inca ruins in Piscobamba.
“Oh there’s many of them patrón, but no good fine silver like this.”
All this time the peasant was scraping the file energetically against the silver bowl.

Tello struggled to remain calm:
“Have you seen stones with pictures on them, with lines?”
 “Many ruins patrón, lots of stones with Shapasco on them” (this was the local name for devils), “but you won’t find anything as good as this fine silver. Best buy it now.”
And as if to confirm its worth, the file squealed once more emphatically against the ancient silver.

It was the last straw. The archaeologist could barely speak.

 “Let’s get out of here,” he slammed his walking cane into the ground, “if I don’t leave now I can’t answer for what I might do to him….. I’m afraid I’ll give him more than he’s bargaining for.”

No comments :

Post a Comment