Through my eyes

living my life without regrets

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Chauchilla Cemetery

Nazca is known for the lines and the mysterious figures carved in the sands. Another site on everyone’s visit to Nazca should be the looted graves of the original inhabitants the region, the Paracas. The Paracas are an amazing people, not much is known about them. The Paracas left us with many mysteries.
Carol and I visited one of their graveyards, dated from 350 AD. This is the beginning of the ceramic culture of Peru, a precious moment in history and it is therefore most disturbing to learn that most cemeteries, if not all, have been looted in recent history. The gold was removed; the mummified corpses were thrown about with little regard to history and with only greed in mind. All the graves had pottery of the finest caliber, all had amazingly delicate woven cloth, and all of the graves had archeological rare clues as to their being. Now, most of it is destroyed, literally thrown about the sands of the desert. The floor of the desert is littered with pieces of bones, with skulls, with clothing pieces pulled into shreds. Human hair blows about in the wind.
What we learned is that all the people were buried in a fetal position, sitting up, facing east. The ancients mummified the bodies of the deceased by having the bodies sit in the full heat and sun of the desert for a few weeks before they buried them in their respective graves. All fluids were removed from their bodies and even after that, each body was packed in raw cotton to absorb any eventual moisture. The bodies were already mummified before they were buried in their graves. The walls of each grave were walled with adobe brick and a roof was added after burial and sand was added on top of the roof. This way, since there is no moisture in the ground in this area around here, the bodies kept their mummification for centuries.
A sign of honor in ancient times was very long hair; the longer the hair, the greater the honor. Two meter long hair was normal, the ancients never cut their hair and they wore it proudly in a turban fashion, on the top of their head. It was told to us that Shamans or priests had the longest hair, and naturally had the richest possessions with them in their afterlife. Shamans and Royalty were special targets for the grave robbers who used long, slim iron bars to probe the ground to find the cavities indicating a grave. The devastation of the cemetery, wrecked by the looters, was astounding. A very large area is pock marked with opened graves, most of them now filled up by the ever drifting sands of the desert.
The state of Peru today, in order to attract more tourists reconstituted some of the grave sides. I applaud the effort but it is a poor way to honor their inheritance, their dead. I took pictures of the few pieces of evidence left that is worthwhile to show. Human flesh still hanging unto the skulls, feet not totally decomposed, bones showing. The rarest and the few surviving examples of the former Paracas are just lying in the sands, exposed to the all the tourists.
The spot of the cemetery is a peaceful spot, not far from a river. I was told that there are many cemeteries like Chauchilla but all have been looted. The loot was sold to international collectors, giving only little money to the actual grave robbers. The beneficiaries of this kind of stealing were a few people; the biggest losers are human kind.

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