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Exchanges -- Interamerican Dialogue

Peruvian Archaeology: Crisis or Development?

Luis Jaime Castillo Butters and Elias Mujica Barreda


As is well known, Peru is emerging from an inevitable and prolonged political, social, and economic crisis. Archaeology, much as other activities in the country, was affected by these circumstances, and was perceived to be in a severe crisis. But in spite of it all, we have seen a series of conditions develop and mature, suggesting that archaeology is at the threshold of an important transition. An analysis of how the national crisis affected archaeology and an evaluation of the consequences engendered by it are essential for an assessment of archaeology's destiny.


Doing Archaeology under Critical Conditions

During the past 10 years, it became impossible to practice archaeology in much of Peru, especially in the highlands and in some coastal valleys. The economic and political instability, as well as the subversive violence and the insecurity that this created, were particularly instrumental in forcing the relocation of foreign projects to neighboring countries and the abandonment of the field by many national researchers. Because of strong Peruvian dependence on foreign projects for field training, the absence of these opportunities has been detrimental to the development of Andean studies, especially if we consider the theoretical and methodological advances of Mesoamerican archaeology and the scientific maturity of archaeology done in neighboring countries (see Nunez and Mena, SAA Bulletin 1994, 12[1]:6- 8).

The risks involved in conducting research in Peru, and the consequent impossibility of offering fieldwork opportunities, also meant that positions available in North American universities for Andean scholars were reduced. This, in turn, produced fewer students interested in working in the area, and ultimately, fewer funds were made available for Peruvian studies.

The development of the discipline during the last decade has been affected by economic, political, and other factors. The insensitivity and inefficiency of the state system, which is dedicated to the administration of the national cultural patrimony, the absence of coherence and pragmatism in the laws that regulate archaeological fieldwork, and the open corruption of public officials made the practice of archaeology a very difficult undertaking. A Peruvian archaeologist's perception is that under the unclear state-imposed regulations, it is easier for a looter to conduct excavations than a professional.

It would be so easy to attribute all problems to corruption and violence. If these were the factors that finally made the cup overflow, they were not the only factors. Perhaps the most serious problems of Peruvian archaeology have always been the lack of a national project, a scientific community, peer-reviewed periodical publications, and a forum for academic discussions, such as a national-level archaeological conference. The cause and effect of these deficiencies is the insufficient preparation of many Peruvian archaeologists, a result of the deficient university programs, lack of libraries and laboratories, and particularly, of even minimal state support for archaeological investigations and protection of archaeological monuments. Problems in the training of Peruvian archaeologists were augmented by the retirement of some of the more influential and prolific archaeologists in the country. As a result of this, the predominant paradigm in many archaeological schools is still an oversimplified version of materialism, added to an ignorance of the intellectual trends that are currently ubiquitous in the field.

But Peruvian archaeologists are not solely responsible for this state of affairs. It should also be noted that few foreign archaeologists have contributed to the improvement of the prevailing conditions in Peru, or to the training of Peruvian archaeologists. Foreign archaeologists don't generally commit more time in Peru than absolutely necessary for their own research, such that they don't contribute to the development of a scientific community. There are few foreign participants in the Peruvian conferences and seminars, few collaborations in national publications, and what few contributions are made are simply translated articles that have been previously published. Generally, the little collaboration that does exist between national and foreign archaeologists is at the level of technical training for students. Even more serious, on the part of the foreigner, is the frequent ignorance of the work and publications of their Peruvian colleagues.

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Signs of Change and Transformation

Under the precarious conditions described above, one would expect that the archaeology conducted by Peruvians would be absolutely stagnant, but the reality is quite different. In the last few years we have witnessed the development of a series of spectacular and technically sophisticated research projects conducted and financed by Peruvians. Projects such as Sipan, El Brujo, and Huaca de la Luna, on the northern coast, have reached an international level of importance. Others of more local importance include Koricancha in Cuzco, supported by the provincial municipality, or the valley of Chincha, developed as a joint venture between the American Museum of Natural History of New York and the Instituto Andino de Estudios Arqueol—gicos (INDEA).

Currently, more than a dozen Peruvian students are doing their doctoral graduate work in foreign universities: many more than in the past. Additionally, archaeology programs in Lima, as well as in the provinces, continue to receive new generations of students, who are expected to renew and update the future of archaeology. The number of archaeological publications in Peru is increasing both in quantity and quality. The training a student can receive in Andean archaeology in a Peruvian university is often better than that in a foreign institution.

At the root of this new development is revitalization in the training of Peruvian archaeologists. For years the Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos was the hub of Peruvian archaeology, producing the first generation of professional archaeologists in the country and most of the archaeologists who currently work in Peru. However, the recent retirement of its most outstanding faculty members, such as Rosa Fung, Luis Lumbreras, and Ramiro Matos, has left a vacuum, forcing the institution to reexamine its objectives and goals. Simultaneously, archaeology programs in the universities of Cuzco, Trujillo, and Ayacucho experimented with a renaissance by hiring new instructors trained in other academic traditions. At the same time, the Universidad Catolica de Lima opened its archaeology program, imparting a strong theoretical training within a stable curriculum and academic continuity. A new generation of archaeologists is emerging from these renovated institutions. Students are systematically trained in method and theory and demonstrate an inclination toward problem-oriented archaeology.

In a parallel development outside of the university setting, groups of archaeologists have appeared, such as INDEA, founded by Luis Lumbreras, who currently edits the most important archaeological journal in Peru, La Gaceta Arqueologica Andina. Other institutions, especially those in provinces such as Piura, Trujillo, Ayacucho, and Cuzco, are also investing in the publication of research results in both periodicals and books. Other private sponsorships (Backus and Johnston: Sipan) can be added to the traditional publications sponsored by the Banco de Credito (Lambayeque and Vicus). At an academic level, it is important to note the emphasis the Universidad Cat—lica is giving to the publication of works by foreign archaeologists in Spanish (Shimada, Cook, Hoquenhem), similar to the effort made by INDEA (Rick, Hyslop), complementing the publications of its own members (Lumbreras, Canziani, Gonzalez Carre).

Another evidence of the new direction of Peruvian archaeology is that currently local archaeologists are conducting the most important research. On the northern coast, for example, the projects of greatest scope such as Sipan, Huaca de la Luna, Huaca el Brujo, San Jose de Moro, and Cerro Mayal, are being directed or codirected by Peruvian archaeologists. New strategies for collaboration have emerged in this area, not only between Peruvian and foreign archaeologists, but also between different national institutions such as universities and the Instituto Nacional de Cultura (INC), banks, and academic institutions.

These developments recently reached their critical point in 1993 at the Primer Coloquio de Arqueologia Mochica. In this forum the recent advances of Mochica studies were reexamined, concluding, for example, with a division of the Mochica into two political entities: the northern and southern Mochica. Other important themes developed at this event that transcend the traditional problems, were special studies: production and distribution systems, ceramic and metallurgical technologies, social stratification, and funerary practices in relation to the development of ceremonial systems. Unlike other occasions, the results of this symposium have been published in an extensive and well- edited volume by the Universidad Nacional de Trujillo, sponsored by IFEA and FOMCIENCIAS.

A similar, although not as intense, development is occurring on the central coast, particularly in Lima, in the Ica-Nazca region, and the southern extreme of the country, both including the Titicaca basin and the Moquegua-Ilo area. In these areas both individual and large, ambitious research programs have been conducted, mainly by foreign archaeologists, but with strong involvement of local scholars. In the Ica-Nazca area the most important contribution has been the reconnaissance and survey of extensive areas, although excavations have been conducted at some key sites. In the extreme south, the most important presence recently and, perhaps, the most controversial has been the Contisuyo project, an interdisciplinary and omnibus endeavor that has studied multiple aspects of the region, including the conduct of extensive surveys. Due to the excellent preservation of some coastal sites, faunal, botanical, and bio-anthropological analyses have been key in these investigations.

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Peruvian Archaeology, A New Agenda

Much has changed in Peru during the past 10 years. After the country's political crisis, we foresee a series of new developments to ensure different conditions for Peruvian archaeology than have predominated thus far. In our opinion, two conditions will be responsible for this: a new generation of archaeologists, Peruvians and foreign, and new social and cultural conditions in the country. The new generation of archaeologists, better educated and trained in collaborative work, will be instrumental in this development. This new generation will consist of archaeologists with training in different types of archaeology that respond to the different needs in the country. Archaeologists dedicated to research, and archaeologists dedicated to salvage, documentation, or to analytical support, where ever they come from, should be capable of combining energies to answer fundamental questions relating to Andean prehistory. Foreign archaeologists, capable of supporting and enriching the field, training under the peculiarities of our archaeology, and deeply involved in the Peruvian scientific community, would be welcome. Foreign projects then would reflect a new panorama and new conditions. It is imperative to make scientific codirection of Peruvian archaeological projects mandatory. The word scientific is emphasized because experience has shown that in many cases national archaeologists have simply functioned to transmit work permits for their foreign colleagues, having little or no input in the scientific aspects of the projects.

Numerous advantages can be seen in scientific codirectorships. Under this scheme, an active record of the data recovered by the investigation stays in the country. The need for supervision and inspection on behalf of the Instituto Nacional de Cultura is reduced, because the national archaeologist, backed by his institution, would become responsible for the quality of the project. The forced bonding between national and foreign archaeologists would contribute to a more active formation of a scientific Peruvian community.

In order for this to have the desired impact, it is necessary to internally consolidate our progress and overcome existing limitations. It is imperative to reformulate the rules that regulate archaeology, making them more efficient. Some urgent modifications are the extensions of permit durations, and a more strict control of the publication of research results. State-provided resources that allow for basic archaeological research are required, something which our neighboring countries already have and which demonstrates the high level of state commitment to their national patrimony. Resources are also necessary for the development of libraries, laboratories, and regional publications. The creation of some kind of a National Congress of Archaeology, of a strictly scientific nature, is a fundamental forum for the dissemination of research results, and for the organization of professionals. Publication of research results is indispensable for the progress of Peruvian archaeology.

The relationship of archaeology to development projects and the protection of the environment, and the development of tourist areas in archaeological sites have, thus far, been marginal tasks for the archaeologist. This has changed recently. A tremendous growth of foreign investment, especially in the field of mining, is creating for the first time in Peru the need to develop a form of contract archaeology.

The challenges that Peruvian archaeology faces today are tremendous. University programs are urged to offer the kind of training that new social and economical conditions impose. This will only be accomplished by the recruitment of well-trained faculty, aware of the advances in method and theory, and able to cooperate with foreign colleagues. A new body of legislation will have to be promulgated, this time considering the reality of both site preservation and the kind of work that archaeologists do. Museums should be converted into regional research centers, and not function as mere depositories of uncontextualized artifacts. Although these conditions will define the context under which archaeology should be conducted, it is in the development of a national project, in which the archaeological participation provides the historical and cultural basis, that its future will be decided.

Luis Jaime Castillo Butters is with the Direccion de Promocion y Desarrollo, Pontificia Universidad Catolica del Peru, in Lima, and Elias Mujica Barreda is at the Instituto de Estudios Arqueologicos, Lima.

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