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Electronic Quipus for the 21st Century: Andean Archaeology Online

John Hoopes


By now, most of us have had some experience "surfing the Net." This Networks column is intended to provide focused, thematic reviews of digital resources for the study and teaching of archaeology. Over the next several issues, we will explore the use of the Internet for conducting research, supporting university instruction, and facilitating the dissemination of archaeological knowledge.

The amount of archaeological information on the Internet is growing exponentially. A search for "archaeology" on the web yields more than 40,000 separate documents (with about 7,000 more for "archeology" and 1,300 for arqueología), most generated in the past year or two. What is most impressive about these resources is that, of all the breakthroughs in computers that have affected archaeology, the Internet may come closest to being "appropriate technology" for this globally underfunded discipline. The hardware requirements are not beyond the means of most universities and research institutions in developing countries. A new, Internet-ready computer with a fast processor and high-speed modem now can be purchased for under $1,000, while web TV and other "network computer" equipment is available for substantially less. Good software for electronic communications and web page development can be found for free, and web-based services such as HotMail ( and Geocities ( offer email and web site hosting for free to anyone in the world. Internet service providers (ISPs) are providing services over increasingly large areas of eastern Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas, with satellite-based service leapfrogging over the reach of traditional hard-wired connections. Public Internet kiosks are appearing across the globe, bringing the Internet and the archaeology on it within reach of a vast audience.

With this initial column, I will describe some of what is happening in Peru, home to the oldest "nets" in the Americas. Just as the Inka linked road systems spanning the Andes, scientists, academics, and enthusiastic amateurs in Peru are undertaking one of the most ambitious programs of digital networking in Latin America. This phenomenon has been intimately linked with archaeology from its inception. Peruvian archaeologists not only have provided rich content of wide interest at an early stage in the development of web resources, they also have fostered an ethic of cooperation fueled by a vision for the future that is inspired by ancient technology. In Peru, both the Internet and archaeological knowledge are seen as tools for social change. Even nonarchaeological web sites are decorated with Precolumbian motifs. While serious problems can arise when interpretations of the past are colored by current political agendas, postmodern critique has made it clear that such bias is impossible to avoid. A wide appreciation for studying and protecting the archaeological resources that have been looted for centuries will ultimately benefit us all. The more people participating in the process of its interpretation, the less chance that a particular ideology will dominate the study of Peru's ancient past. Our Peruvian colleagues are doing an excellent job of demonstrating the power of the Internet for promoting archaeology as both a scientific and a social enterprise. Their work merits our attention, encouragement, and support.

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The Growth of a Cybercommunity

The impact of the Internet in Peru has been particularly striking, given that the vast majority of homes are still without private telephones. The installation of major "backbones" for information routing have greatly accelerated the emergence of communications nodes. Several universities have actively supported the growth of online resources, among them the Universidad Nacional de Trujillo and the Universidad de San Marcos. The first networks in Peru were PC-based BBSs, such as Oracle and Blitz. Peru's first high-speed networks were 10 nodes in Lima connected by 64 Kbs lines in 1992-1993. Additional lines were extended in 1993 to several provinces, and in February 1994 a PANAMSAT satellite connection was established with the international NSF-sponsored backbone. At the end of 1995, the Compañía Peruana de Teléfonos (CPT) was sold to Spanish investors who created Telefónica del Perú and Infovía, a national intranet.

Internet activity was aggressively promoted by encouraging the growth of a handful of ISPs. The emergence of a national network has connected not only government offices, universities, and museums, but also thousands of individuals with access through public and private ISPs, of which the largest is the Red Científica Peruana (RCP). One of the latest developments has been the creation of Cabinas Públicas de Internet,where one can get an email address and pay by the hour for computer access. Several web sites now are bilingual in Spanish and Quechua, the first language of millions of indigenous people throughout the Andes. The web not only facilitates the study of the Precolumbian past by native peoples of Peru, but also permits them to participate globally in its interpretation and meaning. With the increasing empowerment of indigenous populations and the assignment of new meaning to archaeological remains by people who derive a portion of their own identity from ancient material remains, archaeologists must negotiate their roles with increasingly larger and more proactive audiences. The Internet forces scholarship out of its academic arena and opens our work to more intense public scrutiny.

An example of this is the online dialogue generated by a recent email message from the directors of the Abya Yala Fund and the South and Meso American Indian Rights Center (SAIIC) in Oakland, Calif. ( to the Precolumbian Society of Washington, D.C., in response to an email advertising a recent symposium, "Ritual Sacrifice in Ancient Peru: New Discoveries and Interpretations." The organizations' message expressed concern with the program and was forwarded to hundreds of individuals around the world. The authors noted that "Indigenous Peoples. . .have regained their sense of Moche identity in Peru. It is unfortunate that the Moche case (to mention one) has been appropriated by non-Indigenous scholars unaware of Moche cultural persistence, a situation that could lead to providing new interpretations with the participation of the Moche themselves." The authors requested space in the symposium for presenting indigenous views of the highly sensitive topic.

The scope and nature of this public debate would have been impossible just a few years ago. The Internet is amplifying the voice and reach of factions around the world with vested interests in just what archaeology has to say. With its growth in Latin America, the social uses of archaeology are likely to increase dramatically.

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Email Discussion Lists

Hundreds of email networks now facilitate the broadcast of news, information, and networked "conversations" among users worldwide. With email-filtering features available through software like Netscape Communicator, it is relatively easy to follow several discussion lists without getting swamped. Four lists, three based in Latin America and one in the United States, have helped to connect archaeologists interested in ancient Peru.

Red Científica Peruana (RCP), located at (with additional information available via gopher://, is Peru's first public ISP, established in December 1991 as a self-sustained, nonprofit organization. It is one of the most effective organizations disseminating information about South America via the Internet. RCP states its purpose as: "to aid national development by permitting the interchange of information among all Peruvians and with other people and institutions at a regional and world level; developing a national network that belongs to its users and democratizing access to information, that is to say, assuring that all people without exception might be able to use these most valuable tools of communication and information access." RCP hosts numerous web sites (listed below) and sponsors two email "interest groups" for archaeology.

ARQUEOANDINA, a bilingual (Spanish-English) list moderated by Peruvian archaeologist Elias Mujica, has been in existence since 1995. At the end of November 1997 it had more than 470 subscribers. The list maintains a database of subscriber addresses and phone numbers. Mujica also publishes Chaski, an online bulletin of the Instituto Andino de Estudios Arqueológicos (INDEA) that is distributed electronically to ARQUEOANDINA subscribers [see SAA Bulletin 13(5)]. Chaski offers research reports, reviews of recent publications, and news about upcoming events for Andeanists. The list aims to be strictly scientific, and the moderator has little patience for "esoteric lucubrations" or fantastic speculations. To subscribe to ARQUEOANDINA and receive Chaski, send email consisting of only the command "subscribe arqueoandina" to

ARQUEOLOGIA, maintained by Daniel Castillo Benites at the Universidad Nacional de Trujillo, has more than 120 subscribers. Among the benefits of subscription to the list are regular messages by Castillo and others on topics of general interest to Andeanists. These have included both news items and short essays devoted to archaeological sites, cultures, and issues in Peruvian archaeology. Castillo writes, "This list permits the grouping of national and foreign archaeologists by means of electronic mail. This basic tool anticipates a rational and optimal use of communications; securing friendships and establishing contacts among professionals and specialists with a keen sense of social awareness who are concerned that their efforts and research do not lie buried in forgotten vessels, but on the contrary, are consolidated for future projects." To subscribe to ARQUEOLOGIA, send the command "subscribe arqueología" to

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In addition to the RCP lists, two others are also regular sources of information about ancient Peru. ANT-ARQ is based in Argentina. Founded by the webmasters of Noticias de Antropología y Arqueología (see below), this list currently has more than 300 subscribers from over 20 different countries. Current and archived messages can be accessed at gopher:// To subscribe to ANT-ARQ, send the command "subscribe ant-arq" to

AZTLAN, founded and moderated by Jim Cocks at the University of Kentucky, has become one of the best-known discussion lists for Precolumbian studies. Individual users can customize the topics of messages they receive using a menu of "subject" line prefixes. The "AN:" prefix, for example, designates messages about Andean archaeology. To subscribe to AZTLAN, send the command "subscribe aztlan first-name last-name" to

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On the Web in Peru

The Proyecto Ai Apaec (, created by Daniel Castillo at the Universidad Nacional de Trujillo (UNT) and administered through the RCP, was one of the first Peruvian sites to offer scientific content and the first to make archaeology its focus. Proyecto Ai Apaec's objectives are to provide worldwide access to information about Peru's rich archaeological heritage, serve as a database of archaeological information, disseminate the results of specific research, and promote funding of ongoing and future projects. With animated Moche litter bearers on its home page, this site is characterized by attractive graphics and a growing number of high-content pages. Several archaeological sites, including Chan Chan, are described. Links from this site lead to other excellent UNT sites dedicated to the Huacas of the Sun and Moon in the Moche Valley and to the Proyecto El Brujo and petroglyph studies in the Chicama Valley.

Arqueología del Peru , created by Lizardo Tavera Vega, at, represents for the Central Coast region what the Proyecto Ai Apaec is for the North Coast. Redesigned for its anniversary in November 1997, the site offers even more valuable content. Tavera clearly understands both the power of the medium and effective site design. Arqueología del Peru offers detailed discussions of nine archaeological sites near Lima: Cueva, Chilca, El Sol, La Luz, Maranga, El Paraíso, Pachacamac, and Pucllana. Each includes discussions of chronology, features, and site interpretation, as well as numerous photographs, maps, and plans. Online essays cover geography, the current state of Peruvian archaeology, early ceramics, Amazonian archaeology, and a biography of archaeologist Julio C. Tello. Additional pages offer brief illustrated descriptions of the Chancay, Ichmay, and Lima cultures, "U"-shaped temple complexes, and the Inka empire. Links to these are organized by hypertext in chronological charts. Also included are three thematic bibliographies on the subjects of Amazonia and the eastern Andes, Huaca Concha, and Pachacamac; text versions of three Andean myths; a page on archaeological patrimony documenting the destruction of ruins at Matkatampu and Huaca Concha as a result of Lima's urban sprawl; and an extensive photo gallery, with images of pottery from Cajamarca, Chavín de Huantar, and the Inka fortress of Sacsahuaman.

For the South Coast region, Nasca y sus Líneas ( presents extensive documentation of the enigmatic Nazca lines and is especially noteworthy for offering versions in both Spanish and Quechua. Attractively designed and packed with detailed information, the site offers descriptions, photographs, and drawings of the lines, together with a brief history of their investigation.

The bilingual Proyecto "El Brujo" site ( at the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú (PUCP) documents the use of computers to undertake a virtual reconstruction of painted murals from the ceiling of a ceremonial precinct at the Huaca Cao Viejo pertaining to the Moche culture and dating to ca. A.D. 700. For this project, sponsored by the PUCP, IBM, and the Augusto N. Wiese Foundation, mural fragments were digitized with a flatbed scanner and manipulated electronically to assist with reconstruction. The web site explains the methodology and provides five images of reconstructed mural figures. Two web sites, each entitled Tumbas Reales de Sipán, provide images and descriptions of spectacular Moche burials. One, sponsored by the RCP (, is a valuable online resource for exploring the contents of three major tombs at Sipan: the "Lord of Sipan," the "Tomb of the Priest," and the "Tomb of the Old Lord." Each is represented by a clickable, exploded image of each burial (drawn from the catalog of the exhibit "The Royal Tombs of Sipan") linked to images of many of the individual artifacts. The other (, developed by Telefónica del Perú and launched in January 1997 in conjuction with the exhibition of the same name, offers a number of high-resolution images of the Sipan burials. It includes the first virtual reality image of a Peruvian site, a VRML reconstruction ( that allows 3-D "fly-overs" of the adobe platforms that housed the tombs.

Noticias de Antropología y Arqueología (NAyA) ( originates not in Peru but at the Universidad de Buenos Aires in Argentina. It is managed by Claudia Cáceres and Daniel Verniers with the assistance of 14 South American colleagues, and represents one of the best resources for online archaeology and anthropology in Latin America. NAyA offers monthly news reports as well as more than a dozen scholarly articles on topics ranging from early hunters in the Amazon to historical preservation in Cuzco. There are also digitized images and valuable Internet links.

Another valuable resource is the Machu Picchu page at the De Young Museum of San Francisco ( This spectacular visual resource, developed by John Rick and Dakin Hart for the exhibition "The Spirit of Ancient Peru: Treasures from the Museo Arqueológico Rafael Larco Herrera" in summer 1997 [see also SAA Bulletin 15(5)], demonstrates the potential of the web for providing panoramic virtual reality (PVR) experiences of distant sites and artifacts. The page offers a clickable map of Machu Picchu with 10 different 360deg. PVR views (displayed using a free browser plug-in from RealSpace). There are also rotatable PVR images of six vessels representative of Chavín, Moche, Wari, Chimú, Sican, and Inka styles. They will never substitute for the real thing, but they go a long way toward stimulating additional interest in the archaeology of South America.


The Internet resources that have been developed for Peruvian archaeology represent an excellent model for archaeologists throughout the Americas. They are especially impressive for the quality of the resources that are being developed in a country that is not traditionally recognized as a leader in high technology. As is true with archaeologists anywhere, our Latin American colleagues are achieving very impressive results with severely limited resources. The emergence of networks for archaeological communication worldwide is making it increasingly easier for us to learn from and help each other. The more we utilize and support one another's efforts, the more valuable these networks will become.

John Hoopes is at the University of Kansas and the new associate editor for the Networks column. He can be reached at The URL for his personal homepage is

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