Friday, 9 October 2015

The celebrity ruins of Celendín

the route from Celendín to Leymebamba
 photo - Omar Carbajal ©PromPeru 

About 100 kilometres east of Cajamarca, is the town of Celendín.  In the published reports of the expedition team’s stay in the area there are pages and pages with photographs and illustrations of the ancient stone burial towers or chulpas they investigated in nearby Chocta. 

In contrast, there are two paltry sentences describing the previous day’s explorations. One of which witheringly sums up: “some of these specimens seem to be archaic, although difficult to identify due to the scarcity of material”.  

In Hernan’s Anecdotes I found the story behind the story.  

The celebrity ruins of Celendín
In which a mysterious Inca city proves to be elusive - but at least there is some good eating for Hernan

We were already four months behind schedule when the Marañón River Basin Expedition arrived at Celendín. When Tello went out on expedition he resembled in some ways the great Don Quixote. Like that famous wandering horseman of La Mancha, he also followed his own fancies and predilections, and this often led him to make numerous unforeseen discoveries. It was one of the reasons why he was so good. He was not afraid to launch out on a spontaneous exploration, not knowing where it would lead him or when it would end.

As he went along making enquiries here and raking up snippets of information there, he would sometimes digress from his route whenever he saw ancient mysteries or riddles to unravel. He would make lengthy diversions along unfrequented footpaths, just on the mere chance that he might uncover something along the way. Of course this had much to do with our delay in reaching the town.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

The law of the jungle

Rio Marañon in Chachapoyas
photo - Omar Carbajal ©PromPeru 

After their extended stay in the Casma valley, the Marañon expedition headed north up the Pacific coast continuing past Trujillo towards Pacasmayo. On the way they investigated ruins in the Nepeña, Santa, Moche and Jequetepeque valleys. Then they turned inland. 

By the beginning of October they were in Cajamarca. From here on they were in the highlands, where in Yanakancha, Tello and Hernan stopped to investigate an obelisk in the courtyard of the Yanakancha hacienda

The monolith depicted a human and feline figure on opposing sides, and I have always been keen to discover its location because of a family photo that we have with Hernan proudly standing beside it. Well at least now I know where it was. But, intriguingly, whilst researching for this post I also discovered that no one seems to know where it is now.

Striking further east the team finally reached Cochabamba. By now they were penetrating the densely forested sub-tropical highlands of the Amazonian Andes. This is the land of the Chachapoyas – the cloud people.   

Inca legend talks of the cloud people as being a tall warrior race, fair of skin and hair.  Nowadays the great Chachapoyas fortress of Kuelap draws tourists to this remote north eastern region of Peru. Rivalling Machu Pichhu and Sacsayhuaman, the large compound clings to a rocky slope 3,000 metres above sea level, its huge defensive walls more than 20 metres high.

I get the idea from this story that Hernan was not too keen on the tropics.

The law of the jungle
In which Hernan and Tello are assigned a curious task by a diminuitive figure in a pink hat

There's nowhere more quite like purgatory than the boondocks in November. In the whole of the two weeks that we were in Cochabamba (Chachapoyas) we never saw the sun once, and our shoes and feet were never dry. For those of us who were members of the Archaeological Expedition to the Marañon River, our memories of Cochabamba will forever be the forest, the rain, the fog, the fireflies and the singing of the birds sitting shriveled and soaking wet in the trees. 

Saturday, 3 October 2015

Casma ('s) bull

Tello’s 1937 expedition to explore the Upper Marañon river basin and Peru’s northern coastal valleys was aimed at uncovering evidence that the Andean Chavín culture had spread to the coastal plain and influenced later civilizations there.

An enormous mound, Sechín Alto, in the Casma Valley just over 300km north of Lima had always been visible from the roadway. But an unexpected discovery close by was to lead Tello and his team to stay far longer in the valley than originally planned.

fig. 1

The locals led them to a place they knew as el Indio Bravo, so called because of a human face carved on a large rock there. As it turned out this face was only part of a stone that was still three quarters buried underground. Tello was eventually to discover over ninety more, and the Cerro Sechín temple is now famous for the monolithic façade that he uncovered and Hernan sketched.  

The huge stones depict warrior like figures carrying clubs or staffs, surrounded by naked victims and their severed body parts. The Sechín complex forms today one of the largest and most ancient monumental sites in Peru.  

Local tomb raiders as always played their part in the discoveries. Tello seems to have taken a pragmatic approach to these huaqueros. He understood that, whilst he fought against the destruction they wrought, he was also reliant on them to lead him to new sites.

But the relationship didn’t always yield results.

Casma (’s) bull
In which an enterprising huaquero excites some interest

We had been in Casma for several weeks, and by now a large amount of monoliths had been discovered in the Temple of Sechín that we had unearthed. Tello, worked from six to six, and had filled four volumes of notes on these remarkable discoveries. One day, as we were about to start work, it was evident he was itching to share some potentially exciting news with me.