Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Don Timo's turtle

fig. 1
Julio C. Tello was convinced that pre-hispanic Andean cultures were much older than his contemporaries believed. Up until then scholars such as Max Uhl had focused primarily on Peru´s coastal civilizations. Tello developed a revolutionary theory that flew in the face of accepted scientific thinking. 

A UNESCO World Heritage site since 1985, Chavín de Huantar is located on a tributary of the Marañón River, east of Peru’s Cordillera Blanca, near the Callejón de Huáylas. 

An important political and religious centre, at over 3,200 metres above sea level, it occupies a strategic mountain intersection where many of the major early routes linking Peru’s tropical rainforests and its desert coast came together.

In 1919 Tello was the first archaeologist to make a detailed scientific study of Chavín de Huantar and its people. He looked upon Chavín as a kind of ‘mother culture’; an ancient Peruvian civilisation that grew and spread from this centre in the mountains, sophisticated enough to migrate downwards to the coastal regions and influence subsequent cultures there.

He later searched all over the coastal regions of Peru for the signs of Chavín that would validate his theory.
When in 1937 the expedition team arrived in a coastal valley just over 300km north of Lima, Tello‘s instincts were on high alert. And they were not wrong. The Casma Valley is home to one of the largest and most ancient monumental sites in Peru, including the Cerro Sechín temple, now best known for the macabre monolithic stone frieze that Tello eventually uncovered and Hernan recorded.

But you have to kiss a lot of frogs……. 

Don Timo’s turtle
In which our enthusiastic explorers set out on what proves to be a wild goose chase, or in this case a wild turtle chase

Just before Mejía Xesspe discovered the Sechín Temple in Sechín Bajo on the Corrales Mountain, Tello was already excited about the possibility of an impending discovery. He had seen the Chavinesque stone that was currently in the possession of a certain Señor Juan Reyna, and although Reyna, along with everyone else involved, had no idea as to its provenance, Tello believed the small monolith could only have come from the Casma Valley.

All the more reason then for his delight when an Indian sharecropper from the San Diego Hacienda, Timoteo Reyes, came to him with some information that seemed to provide a trail leading to more discoveries. According to Don Timo he knew a place where there was a stone turtle complete with engravings on its shell.