Miraflores, the neighborhood in Lima where we stayed and spent much of our time, is a lovely, leafy, normal 21st century ‘hood with people on smart phones and a confusing number of Papa John’s. So it’s jarring to round a corner and find, in between high rises, ancient ruins dating from 500 AD. In fact, until 20 or so years ago, Huaca Pucllana—the size of a city block or two—was considered just an odd part of the neighborhood, largely ignored as a site of historical or cultural importance. It was that weird hill made of bricks that kids used for motocross (this is true) until excavation began in earnest in 1992. What archaeologists discovered was a huge compound, built in layers over time, that served as a ceremonial and administrative hub for the Lima people, who flourished between 100 and 650 AD.
Some fun (fun?) Huaca P facts:
-Much like Blake, the Limas loved a reno. Every ten to fifteen years, perhaps coinciding with a change in leadership, they would add a new layer to Huaca Pucllana. But, as we all know, before you can start on an addition you need to get all your permits in place and sacrifice a couple dozen fertile young women. Burial caverns have been found containing the bodies of women aged 12 to 25. They all had borne children (12, we know…), were from elite families, and had been plied with shellfish banquets before being stoned and speared to death. It’s grisly. It’s also exactly how someone would trick us into meeting our doom: “You like scallops? Check out this buffet…”
-Unlike the Incas, who sacrificed male warriors to their gods, the Limas required female sacrificiants because their deities, the ocean and the moon, were female. Girl power! Although archeologists have found the burial sites of a few men who appear to have been significant to society, it is still unknown whether women were rulers or religious leaders. We’re going to just assume yes.
-The Lima people were terrific structural engineers. Peru gets hit by earthquakes on the reg, but Huaca Pucllana is still standing tall. It’s constructed of thousands of bricks made of clay and ground-up shells, each shaped by hand unlike the molded adobe used in Southwestern pueblos. Space was left in between each brick to allow for movement during seismic activity.
-Sometime around 700 AD, the Lima culture was overtaken by the Wari people, who arrived from the coast and adapted Huaca Pucllana for their own religious rituals. Unlike the Lima, the Wari believed in an afterlife and prepared their dead accordingly. Bodies were wrapped in layers of textiles and buried with decorative ornaments and just a few things you might need for the trip, some Emergen-C and Purell and dried mango to keep things moving. The Wari also believed the dead needed spirit guides to lead them to the next life, and what better spirit guide than an innocent child. Archaeologists have uncovered several of these burial shrouds accompanied by sacrificed children.
-After the Wari came…another culture, whose name we forgot to write down during our vigorous note-taking and whose religious rituals seemed to be ordered around asking the gods for rain, which is confusing because it never rains in Lima. It never rains. After Cairo, it is the driest capital city in the world. We’re talking 12 millimeters of rain each year. So it seems like you’re setting yourself up for failure if your priest caste derives its power from being able to make it rain. Just personally, we’d maybe go for a trick with a higher success rate, like, “I’m going to perform this sacred dance and then sometime this week, everyone’s going to feel great about their progress toward an important goal.”
If you’re visiting Peru and skipping Machu Picchu (and we loved Lima, so this is not a completely crazy thing to do), Huaca Pucllana is a great way to squeeze some pre-Columbian history in between all the eating. More on that in our Lima round-up.