By Josseline Gonzalez
Recently, outside the walls of Chan Chan archaeological site in Peru, archaeologists found the remains of an ancient burial site. These burials contained not only human remains but examples of utensils, beads and textiles. This priceless find was not contained within the protected walls of the heritage site, and it reveals how much research and exploration sites like Chan Chan still require. And yet, the site is so endangered, one can imagine that such research opportunities will become less and less available.
Chan Chan was the capital of the kingdom of Chimor, also known as the Chimú civilization. This civilization flourished 600 years ago and was considered to be one of the most prosperous cultures and largest empires in the history of the Andes. The Chimú civilization was spread out over 600 miles from south of Ecuador all the way to central Peru. With a population of 60,000 people in the capital alone, the culture influenced the Incas who adopted their irrigation systems among other things, when they conquered them around 1470. Before their fall, their greatest achievement was creating an adobe kingdom and making it one of the most influential decorative model for architecture in ancient times. The site, however, has not been preserved even though it is still an important resource for learning more about the Chimú, Inca and other Mesoamerican societies.
El Niño and roads are the main reasons why this civilization of the Chimú has been endangered. One of the greatest achievements of the Chimú people was creating an adobe kingdom. Adobe is basically mud brick. Because of the material used, the strong winds and rain brought by El Niño have begun to deteriorate the walls. Even in ancient times, around the mid-fifteenth century, the people from Chan Chan would sacrifice an offering to ward off El Niño. Recently, archaeologists found a possible example of this type of sacrifice. Skeletal remains of a woman were found on the site. But El Niño is not the only threat that the stunning architecture of the Chimú civilization has encountered; our own development has constructed a problem with the location of this site.
Recently, Peru’s government has proposed the construction of a road that would cross the site. This would mean excavating the site and removing any artifacts, architecture, burial grounds and inhabitants located in the area meant for the road. The removal of these items seems like a good idea, especially since it would protect the artifacts, but it would destroy the one thing that would be hard to replace and that is the experience. National Geographic believes this site to be one of the must see places in the world. The experience of witnessing the walls in situe allows audiences the ability to witness firsthand the hard work of the Chimú civilization.
Even though there are already about 6.6 million dollars going towards the prevention of Chan Chan’s destruction, more protective activities could be done to strengthen this land that is still so mysterious to us. The Walled Complex team in Trujillo, Peru has already started building reinforcement for the UNESCO World Heritage Site. By fortifying the bases of these walls and by covering them with tents, the team is trying to preserve the walls from the wind and rain. There has also been no action towards building the road. Chan Chan’s architecture, irrigation system, and art have so much to teach us about how ancient civilizations prospered. As one of the leaders of the Walled Complex project, who works on site to create a foundation for the walls, said, “Cemeteries were built for the working class, but it’s unusual to see it outside. There is still much to research.”