Marcahuamachuco (Pérou) : The great ancient Pre-Incan monumental center


Great Ancient Monumental Center in Peru Lies Forgotten, But Not for Long

Dan McLerran

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Known by archaeologists as the "Machu Picchu of the North", the great ancient Pre-Incan Peruvian site of Marcahuamachuco gets a major facelift.


 Marcahuamachuco: Remains of a castillo. Courtesy David Almeida, Wikimedia Commons.  

The ruins of this mysterious ancient monumental center bespeak a majesty long forgotten through centuries of abandonment and decay. Built over 1,600 years ago atop a highland mesa at 3,200 meters (10,000 feet), it commands a sweeping view of the three Northern Peruvian mountain valleys below it.  Archaeologists call it the "Machu Picchu of the North", and rightly so. Covering more than 3 kilometers of land, it is known for its impressively massive castillos and circular double-walled structures and enclosures. But over the years, its impressive remains have fallen prey to the elements, both natural and human-derived, such as weathering, plant growth, livestock grazing, and lack of conservation. Now, it appears its long decline ends and a new lease on life begins.

Through a cooperative effort between the Government of Peru, the Unidad Executivo de Marcahuamachuco (UEM, a Peruvian regional development organization), and the Global Heritage Fund (GHF) based in Palo Alto, California, the ancient site of Marcahuamachuco will receive long-in-coming planning, funds, technical resources, and not-a-little local community elbow grease to conserve and restore it to at least a semblance of its former glory. The project is expected to set the stage for a local economic renaissance for the indigenous population.  Says Jeff Morgan, Executive Director of GHF,  "After intensive investigations, we are pleased to announce Marcahuamachuco as our newest GHF Project. It is one of Peru's most important archaeological treasures, and like so many of the country's top heritage sites, it has suffered in the shadow of Machu Picchu for too long."  The GHF reports that "with excellent potential to be one of the first UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the northern highlands of Peru, Marcahuamachuco will provide a major focus for economic development in an area with few opportunities for local communities."

The GHF, in concert with its Peruvian partners, will apply a unique conservation and development strategy that has worked very successfully on scores of similar situations throughout the world. Called Preservation by Design, the approach employs a methodology of community-based planning, science, development and organizational partnerships to achieve long-term preservation and sustainability. It is hoped that, just as it has done with many other sites and associated communities in other parts of the world, it will capitalize on the cultural heritage of the area to not only renew and resurrect a valuable archaeological treasure, but also reinvigorate the local economy and bring hope and prosperity to an otherwise depressed community.  "It is a race against time, the elements and other forces of slow destruction," says one observer, "but it is done very systematically, in a way that will ensure lasting success and a better future for those who are the closest stakeholders - the people who live there."

Marcahuamachuco: Double walls of a circular gallery. Courtesy David Almeida, Wikimedia Commons.

Marcahuamachuco: Window openings in a castillo wall section. Courtesy David Almeida, Wikimedia Commons.

Archaeological investigations of the site began around 1900 by Max Uhle of the University of California, Berkeley, when he photographed the site and corrected older maps made of the site by previous explorers. Theodore McCown of the University of California continued investigations from 1941 to 1942, producing more detailed maps and developing a chronology for cultural development at the site.  A student of McCown, John Thatcher, later returned to the site during 1968 - 1969 and 1973 - 1974 to establish cultural phases and chronologies based on ceramic studies. Since 1981, the Huamachuco Archaeological Project, a Canadian project, has been conducting studies of the area.

Built around 400 A.D. and lasting until 800 A.D., Marcahuamachuco was the center of a Pre-Incan civilization and thought to have been ancient Peru's most important economic, political, spiritual, and military center during that time period. Some of the site's functions still remain a mystery, but scholars suggest that it was a religious oracle for the population, later used as a sacred burial ground. The site consists of several major compounds surrounded by curved stone walls, in some places as much as 12 meters high, with interior plazas, rooms and galleries that are interpreted by archaeologists to have served ceremonial and administrative functions.

Marcahuamachuco is GHF's second project in Peru, joining Chavín de Huántar, which is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site high in the Andes mountains. The successful work done at Chavín de Huántar will, in part, serve as a model for the work being done at Marcahuamachuco.

CIV   102 :  Civilisations précolombiennes d’Amérique du Sud  /  South American Civilizations

REL  202 :  Divinités andines  /  Precolombian religions in South America