Peru

Well, I have arrived in Lima at the start of my Peruvian adventures. I have a loose plan of where I plan to be and when, but this is of course bound to change as I go along. Before I started planning this trip, I had imagined that all there was to see in Peru was Macchu Picchu, but there’s SO much more.

Before I start randomly posting from my travels, I thought I’d upload a couple of timelines of the various Peruvian civilisations that I’ll be coming across so that I can refer back to them later. One is from the book Cochineal Red by Hugh Thomson and gives the main civilisations in the different geographical regions together with their approximate dates. The other is from the museum at Pachacamac and shows a lot more civilisations but without specific date ranges.

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One thing I’ve learned from my readings before I came away is that these civilisations aren’t completely distinct; they each have their own individual features but also tend to inherit a lot from earlier civilisations. The oldest known civilisation in South America occurred in Peru (the pyramids at Caral were built around 2600BC, around the same time as the pyramids at Giza in Egypt). Why Peru? One argument put forward in Cochineal Red is that it may have been due to the need for trade. The region is pretty inhospitable, particularly in terms of climate, and so in order to prosper you needed to trade your limited range of goods with groups from other areas (coastal/highland/rainforest).

Climate is also the main rationale put forward for the downfall of most of the civilisations shown on the timelines (with the exception, of course, of the Incas). In the coastal desert, for example, there might be very little (if any) rain, so you rely on water running off from rainfall in the highland areas. Climatic changes (including pronounced El Niño events) could result in severe droughts or flooding that ended civilisations. Earthquakes could also wreak havoc.

The severe dependence on (and unpredictability of) the Andean climate zones does help to explain why most of these civilisations seem to have been quite obsessed by the weather, with many of the activities I’m going to be seeing seemingly evidence of their attempts to appease the “weather gods”.

Just in case this all sounds like it’s going to be exceedingly dull, here’s a quick excerpt from the introduction to Cochineal Red:
One problem for more serious-minded archaeologists is that ancient Peru seems to have flirted with every element of archaeology that the public most like to sensationalise and which as a consequence professionals like to downplay: human sacrifice, stargazing, wild sex, psychedelic drugs and the mummification of the dead, let alone leaving treasure concealed in pyramids. It is with some relief that archaeologists in the past averted their eyes from such tabloid behaviours and concentrated on dating the phases of a culture’s pots

Bring on the tabloid behaviour! (and the pots!)

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