The First Field Trip

The last few days in Peru have been action-packed and I’ve barely had time to even think about blogging. I have a little bit of free time now, so let’s talk about our first field trip!

Bob had arranged for us to tag along with some Peruvian students on a trip to a site called Chupacigarro/Caral. While you’d think that Peruvians would’ve been tired of these sites by now, they actually travel less than Americans do, even around Peru. I think it was as new for us as it was for some of them. We hopped on a private minibus and headed north on the Panamerican highway out of Lima. Our first stop was the largest sand dune in the world. We stopped and looked around for shell middens. In the past, people would have hauled their shellfish from the ocean up the sand dune where there was drinkable water. They would eat their catch and leave behind the shells. Where there was a shell midden, there would be many white shells and fragments laying plainly on the dark sand. We also spotted some animal bones and some ancient corn cobs.

Link to Flickr: Examining a shell midden (trash pit).
{On the dune, looking for shells.}

We ate breakfast in a cafe in a small town. The first place we tried did not have the regional favorite tamales. The second place had a few. We didn’t know whether this was a meal or not (it was 9AM) so some of us only ordered a tea or coffee. Little did we know that the next major meal would be had twelve hours later! After our snack we got back on the bus. At Barranca, a larger town, we turned off the highway and went down a bumpy dirt road lined with various crops grown by the locals. From what we could see (and now remember), there were chile peppers, cotton, sugar cane, and maize. Someone had a plot of maize growing in the sun. We stopped the bus and hopped out to have a closer look.

Link to Flickr: Maiz!
{Corn drying in the sun.}

The owner of the field eventually found us and was pleasantly surprised to see that his corn had gotten so much attention. He encouraged us to pick them up and pose for photos with them. One of the Peruvian students bought one as a souvenir. The dirt road to Chupacigarro/Caral was longer than we had thought. Going up the Supe valley away from the coast, we would’ve gone in the same path that a fisherman would have used to get to the site. Our busload of archaeology students and professors had to stop and ask for directions to the site! It’s not often that archaeologists lose a ceremonial site with several pyramid and residential compounds, but it does happen apparently.

When we got to the site, it was very hot. Only a few of us had the trifecta of hat, water, and sunscreen. It was also around 1PM and the American students were getting hungry. Still, we went on a guided tour of Chupacigarro/Caral. Called the earliest Peruvian civilization, the site is comprised of several pyramids approaching 60 feet tall as well as other smaller buildings. For its time period, the Preceramic, the size and complexity of the site was unique. It wasn’t exactly a city as there is no sign of heavy residential use or large cemeteries, but there are some buildings that had clear signs of habitation. I took some great panoramic photos of the site, showing how the pyramids are positioned.

Link to Flickr: Panoramic view of the pyramids.
{Pyramids at Caral/Chupacigarro (click for gigantic panorama!).}

At the close of the tour, we had a pago ceremony to commemorate the memory of the site and remember the people who must have lived, worked, or worshipped there. Bernadino, a fantastic Peruvian archaeologist, led the ceremony by thanking the triplicate division of the world (underground, surface, and sky) and offering them and us some coca leaves, a cigarette, and a shot of tequila. Afterward we got back on the bus where the Peruvians started to celebrate a memorable trip. They brought out some pisco, some bread, some apples, and passed them around. There were drinking songs and general merriment to end our day. We were back in Lima by 9:30PM and quickly grabbed some dinner at a nearby seafood restaurant. We were really tired, and it was only Saturday!

Photos have been posted to Flickr. Give it a look!

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