Tuesday, June 18, 2019

The Magnificent Pyramid Complex at Túcume – Part II

Continued from the previous post regarding the pyramid complex or series of 26 close-packed pyramids in the Lambayeque Valley, the largest valley of the North Coast of Peru, all dating to before the Moche, who themselves were a wealthy and powerful farming-based people, who built many kinds of sophisticated structures, including irrigation systems and elaborate religious complexes known as huacas, which included stepped pyramids.
    As mentioned in the previous post, the Huaca Larga, or the Long Pyramid, is the longest adobe structure known to date, and was originally a freestanding platform that was remodeled into is current configuration by adding the step pyramid on top. Long corridors and dividing walls partition the complex, and researchers have identified a northern, possibly public, ceremonial area and a southern area devoted to cooking and manufacturing.
The mud0brick adobe pyramid complex called Huaca Larga at Túcume, the protector of Túcume and a sacred hill

All the buildings in this region later, during the Chimú occupation and domination, were painted in the colors red, white and black. The walls were decorated, one mural depicting flying birds in the “Temple of the Mythical Bird” stands out from the rest. Apparently, the Chimú tried to convert Huaca Larga into a structure that resembled the vast adobe city of Chan Chan, found near Trujillo.
    Though Túcume is now properly analyzed, it went largely unrecognized until Thor Heyerdahl’s interest was ignited by the complex in 1988. Since then considerable work has been done around Túcume, uncovering additional and fascinating pyramid structures and impressive artefacts. In fact, so many artefacts were uncovered that a museum was built at Túcume. The weaving of delicate textiles practiced at Huaca Larga and may well date back to what archaeologists have labelled Chimu period or before.
    However, the most exciting discoveries of this region is that of possible ocean travel and boat building by early inhabitants of Túcume. Among the finds were stunning friezes depicting birdmen piloting boats amid anthropomorphic waves. Again, a consistent connection to Helaman 3:14 mentioning the Nephite’s history of “their shipping and building of ships.”
    A very important fact involved in these pyramids and the communities surrounding them is that though archaeologists and historians have neatly divided Peruvian history in various “cultures,” the sites show continuity in use, with one culture not abandoning a sacred site and constructing its own, but merely “taking over” the management of the site.
    Another way to say this is that the people who lived in these cities were long-time residents who developed in their skills, artistic interests, and manufacturing ability over time and were not separate cultures, but developmental stages of one culture or society.
    Another obstacle to numerous and separate cultures as opposed to one, continuous culture, is that of building time and investment of labor. That is, it has been determined that it would have taken 2000 people per year to make bricks for one pyramid. It would therefore take thousands of people to complete one pyramid, but there are no less than 26 in total in Túcume alone, and more than 200 across the entire valley! Pyramid building would thus have been an all-consuming task for the people of this valley if constructed at one time or by an itinerant social order.
The several buildings and pyramids at Túcume, not badly weathered

On the other hand, built over hundreds of years by one continuous society would make such activity both understandable and workable. It is also clear that the pyramids were built according to a strict master plan, thus additionally suggesting a single society over a long period of time.
    The pyramids were not tombs. The tops of most pyramids were flat and there were either rooms in or along the path upwards. Some of the rooms contained food remains, like llama and large fish, traditionally assumed to be the food of the wealthy. There was an oven with charcoal, all suggestive of the fact that people lived here for long periods of times.
    On top of one pyramid, the remains of a 35-year-old man have been discovered. He wore jewelry and a feather headdress, no doubt a member of a governing elite, either in a political and or religious sense. Beneath one such room researchers found buried below a level built much earlier containing weaving of delicate textiles, including high quality wooden implements for spinning and weaving and for inlaid earspools.
    In a different room atop Huaca Larga, archaeologists discovered three male burials, one of them of a mature, robust man with insignia, suggesting he may have been a governor or chief judge of Túcume. Shortly after these burials took place, all standing structures on Huaca Larga were razed and huge fires that could be seen over great distances were lit on top.
    Oral history also recalls that enormous fires were lit by the Spanish colonists to convince the local population that Tucume was the gate to purgatory. As mentioned, Purgatorio or Purgatory is still the name by which the local people refer to the complex today. Yet, despite this “Christian warning,” local shaman healers (“curanderos”) continue to invoke the power of Túcume and the central La Raya Mountain, or Mountains of the Ray, in their rituals, assisted by shamanic techniques and the psychoactive San Pedro cactus, holding weekly rituals which researchers believe have been going on since before Inca times.
    In a third pyramid, which had suffered heavily from damage inflicted by looting, were found beautiful friezes, of a quality previously unknown in the Lambayeque region, and one of Túcumes most interesting features. These include the frieze known as “the Mound of the Rafts", which is located on the southwestern margin of the site in the only group of large pyramids outside the monumental sector. While the "Frieze of the Rafts" depicts a mythical scene in which a bird-man and a mythical bird lead a raft, following a similar boat with a related crew, the "Frieze of the Rite" depicts a figure who may be a priest inside a roofed structure and holding a lama in one hand and a staff in the other. While their precise meaning remains unclear, archeologist Alfredo Narváez sees a revival of the earlier Moche tradition of fine-line drawing, as seen in their exquisite ceramics, transposed to a different medium. A narrative character has been attributed to the Moche ceramic drawings. Thus, the friezes of Huaca Balsas may depict scenes that form part of one or more Lambayeque myths.
Cerra Blanco hill at Chan Chan, referred to as the “Man of Chan Chan,” protector of the Campana, a sacred location in the area

Like the Cerra Blanco hill at the Chan Chan complex, the Cerra La Raya forms the focus of this site. All 26 structures are built around this circular and cone-shaped hill, which rises 646-feet high (equivalent to a 64-story building today) and which is also known as “El Purgatorio,” which was held sacred—and and continues to be held sacred today—and is at the core of why these structures were erected here. Access to the sacred mountain was originally restricted, as many cultures felt that humans should not enter the domain of the “apu,” the mountain god, though there is evidence of later Inca constructions on the hill, such as an altar site. That the mountain of the gods was off-limit to humans explains why the people “had” to build a pyramid – a replica mountain which they were allowed to access.
    To fully understand the Túcume complex, we need to look at the “Temple of the Sacred Stone,” which is a small, unpretentious, rectangular U-shaped structure to the east of Huaca Larga. It is considered a major temple that pilgrims had to pass by before entering the complex. The walled roadway system of this section of the Lambayeque valley leads straight to this temple, and then onwards to Huaca Larga.
    The revered object of this temple appears to have been a large, upright boulder in the middle of the one-room building: the “sacred stone,” though no one today knows what it represents. That it was the “Piedra Sagrada,” “the omphalos,” or center of something seems certain, but of what is unknown.
    The identification of the site and the mountain with Purgatory is therefore probably not a coincidence. The Spanish Conquistadors probably understood the local rituals and compared them with their own Christian upbringing. Purgatory and fire go hand in hand in the Christian tradition, where purgatory is a state of existence, the domain of the dead who were with sin and where the fire purges the soul of its sin.
    Once again, this entire area is more reminiscent of a continuous occupation by a singular people over a very long time and not a parade of separate cultures which just happen to appear in the area time after time. It might also be of interest to know that when settlement areas to the south were anciently burned, this area to the north swelled with increased populations.

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