The Archaeological Project of Huaca Malena
Rommel Angeles Falcon and Denise Pozzi Escot
In Peru, illicit trafficking of cultural property is ever-present, especially in regards to archaeological artifacts. Ancient Peruvian cultures reached such advanced levels of artistic achievement that goods such as ceramics, metal work, and textiles fetch high prices on the global black market. Sadly, the majority of pre-Hispanic textiles known to us have been excavated illegally by grave robbers, or huaqueros, whose looting and selling deprive us all of the historical context of these artifacts. Huaca Malena is a typical Peruvian archaeological site in that it has been heavily sacked for its beautiful textiles. The Archaeological Project of Huaca Malena, sponsored by the municipal district in which Huaca Malena is located, does not have the funds to meet the conservation and restoration needs of this rich collection. To overcome this shortcoming, the Adopt-a-Textile project was conceived to inform institutions, scholars, and the public of the urgent need to rescue and preserve textiles from Huaca Malena. ICOM-Peru and the Archaeological Project of Huaca Malena work diligently in their call to interested supporters. Through their efforts, the Adopt-a-Textile project has enabled the conservation of a large number of textiles, and was a jumping off point for a subsequent educational program that involved the community in the defense and protection of pre-Hispanic textile heritage, inarguably one of the finest legacies of their ancient ancestors.
Ancient Peruvian textiles are distinguished by their beauty, color, and technical brilliance. Masterpieces from cultures such as the Wari and Paracas are ranked among the finest textiles from antiquity, not only for their great age but also for the technical achievements. The Peruvian desert coast is one of the driest places on earth, which has allowed for preservation of all kinds of artifacts, in particular textiles.
Textiles occupied an important place in ancient culture, not only because they provided protection and adornment, but also for their ceremonial functions. According to documents from the 16th century, textiles were “a common offering in sacrifices, which also served at different times and occasions as symbols of high status or great power.” They were considered important objects of trade and tribute, and were sometimes ritually burned or used for cult activities. In other words, textiles were fundamental to ritual and commerce, as well reflecting, through their beauty and quality, the status of their owners. Textile production was a complex process that, over time, gave rise to specialists. Different activities, from selecting raw materials, to processing of fibers into different kinds of threads, and finally to weaving, resulted in the magnificent textiles that have been recovered and which, despite the passage of centuries, retain their colors.
In the pre-Hispanic Andes, the principle fibers used in the manufacture of textiles were cotton and the wool of camelids. Cotton (Gossipium barbadensis), occurring naturally in shades from white to brown, has been found in the earliest archaeological sites along the Peruvian coast. Camelid fibers, which are easier to weave than cotton, were used to make all kinds of items. Wool of the llama (Lama glama) is quite coarse, and therefore was used for utilitarian textiles, while the soft fiber from the alpaca (Lama pacos) was utilized for garments and objects of all kinds. Camelids produce a variety of shades of fiber ranging from white to black, as well as shades of brown. Wool of the wild vicuna (Lama vicugna) was reserved exclusively for elite textiles.
Textiles are important documents for understanding the technology and culture of the ancient societies that developed in the Andean region. Along the coastal desert, rates of preservation are extremely high as compared to the sierra, where very little has survived. The Wari culture (700–1100 AD approximately), which predated the Inca empire, spread from the North coast of Peru down to Cuzco, with their capital in the Ayacucho region. Wari textiles have survived in coastal burials within the tombs of important figures. They played a fundamental role in the distribution of political and religious ideals. Fine tapestries of camelid and cotton contain iconography related to that found in the weavings of the neighboring Tiwanaku culture, but with distinctly Wari ingredients. These images are found most often in tunics (uncus) decorated with vertical bands of repeated figures, such as the profile staff bearer, whose image was know as far back as the Chavin dynasty (850–450 BC approximately). The most common colors found in Wari textiles are beige, red, blue, pink, dark brown, and shades of white.
Huaca Malena Textiles
Huaca Malena is typical of archaeological sites along the South-central coast of Peru in that it has been extensively looted for its fine Wari textiles. The site consists of a large artificial platform covering 4 acres, on top of which were raised six smaller terraces made primarily of walls of hand-made, semi-cylindrical adobe bricks. Located 100 kilometers south of Lima, the site was identified and studied by Julio C. Tello and Toriba Mejía Xesspe in 1925. The team recovered 312 funerary bundles from the upper platform of the structure, and they proposed a tentative chronology that attributed the site to the Wari occupation, with later Inca burials.
The authors began archaeological investigation of the site in 1997. During the earlier period of construction (400–500 AD approximately) the site was an administrative and religious center, contemporaneous to the Moche culture in the North and Nazca culture in the South. Later, during the Wari dynasty (700–1100 AD approximately), the upper part of the structure was used as a large cemetery. During the recovery project, approximately 4000 textiles of varying size and structure were salvaged. The vast quantity were abandoned on the surface by grave robbers, however others were excavated from intact burials. The recovery at Huaca Malena of a large quantity of exceptional textiles, including a group of fine Wari tapestries, attests to the status of the people buried at the site.
Grave robbing, or Huaqueando, is an ever-present, unscrupulous action in which burials are sacked (often at night under a full moon) in search of commercially-valuable archaeological material. Gold and silver, fine ceramics, and rich textiles are all highly sought after. At Huaca Malena, the huaqueros found artifacts of exceptional artistic accomplishment. Textiles recovered from Huaca Malena range from tunics of cotton and camelid threads, woven bands, bags, belts, miniature looms, and other fragments. At least 32 techniques have been identified, including very fine tapestry, double cloth, brocade, gauze, warp-faced weaves, tubular weaves, and others.
The Adopt-a-Textile Program
In addition to their archaeological investigation, the authors have initiated a multidisciplinary program aimed at the local and academic communities, with the goal of raising awareness about the need to protect Huaca Malena and the artifacts recovered from the site. The Adopt-a-Textile program enables institutions, scholars, and individuals to sponsor the recovery and conservation of textiles. At the May, 1998 ICOM-Peru conference, the Adopt-a-Textile program was presented as a highlight of its International Museums Day.
The process of “adoption” consists of providing financing for conservation and exhibition of a textile that then remains the property of the State and is available for research by the Archaeological Project of Huaca Malena or private scholars. Although participants do not get to own the textile they adopt, they are given the satisfaction of having collaborated in the preservation of a fragile and beautiful example of ancient art. This call to the public has been a success, and over the intervening seven years more than fifty textiles have been conserved.
The adoption process generally begins with a visit to the site. Archaeologists involved in the project provide a guided tour showing the damage done by grave robbers and explaining the system of recovering textiles. As each textile is conserved, a technical form is kept on which is recorded the state of preservation, the conservation processes undergone (such as fumigation, mechanical surface cleaning, realigning, mounting, and framing), and a photograph, along with the name of the person or institution that funded the work. This step is extremely important in order to document the treatment and maintain the historic integrity of each artifact. When a textile is exhibited, the sponsors’ names are shown alongside their adopted textiles. The Adopt-a-Textile program is a success thanks to the joint efforts of people, businesses, schools, and other institutions who have in common the belief that the protection of Peruvian cultural heritage is the responsibility of every Peruvian.
Some of strongest advocates for conservation have been students from the region. The 4th-grade students of the Franco-Peruano School organized a student fair where they sold crafts made by them or their friends and family. After manning the fair for the day, the students turned their earnings over to their teacher for donation to the Adopt-a-Textile program. Another class organized a bake sale to raise money to adopt a few textiles, claiming on a banner “We are protecting Peruvian cultural heritage.” In some cases during art classes, students made items reminiscent of pre-Hispanic artifacts, and later sold them to raise funds. Finally, some students of the San Silvestre School organized an auction to raise the money needed to pay for the conservation of four textiles; while another group of students adopted another textile with money they raised doing civic works.
These activities not only allow the students to come together as a group, but from a pedagogic point of view, encourage volunteerism and foster better understanding of art and culture. The curriculum of the adoption program teaches textile technology, such as fibers (cotton, camelid, and vegetable fibers such as tortora and maguey) and ancient weaving tools. Afterward, some students learn simple techniques such as knotting, and eventually may practice mounting cloth samples on miniature strainers.
The research and preservation of archaeological sites can lead to active participation of communities through educational programs and “adoption” of cultural property. This reinforces the fact that research has immediate ability to raise awareness of cultural heritage.
Exhibition and Diffusion
The Municipal Museum of Huaca Malena was established to enable visitors to get to know the collection and to share the knowledge that was acquired during the Archaeological Project of Huaca Malena. In 1998, the Museum hosted the exhibit “Basta ya, salvemos lo nuestro,” organized by ICOM-Perú. Finally, several textiles conserved by the Adopt-a-Textile campaign have been included in international exhibits such as:
- Ayacucho: manos que hablan, 1998. Main hall, Organization of American states, Washington, CD.
- Ayacucho: manos que hablan, 1999. Casa de las Américas, Madrid, Spain.
- Adopt-a-Textiles: Textile Restoration at Huaca Malena, 1999. Centro Cultural de la Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú, Lima.
- Huaca Malena: Learning the Past, 1999. Museo Nacional de Arqueología Antropología e Historia del Perú, Lima.
- Wari: Peruvian pre-Columbian Art, 2000. Seville, Spain.
- Adopt-a-Textile Program: Huaca Malena, 2001. Museo Regional de Ica, Peru.
In addition, conserved textiles have been exhibited in the following locations: AFP Horizonte, Franco-Peruvian School of Lima, San Silvestre School, and the Municipal offices of Asia-Cañete.
Other forms of support for Archaeological Project of Huaca Malena include the sponsorship of a web site. Fundación Telefónica del Perú enabled the creating and maintenance of a comprehensive web site about the project, which can be found at http://huacamalena.perucultural.org.pe.
Through the support of the local government, the Municipal Museum of Huaca Malena was built and inaugurated in June 2001. It is located in the village of Capilla de Asia, and serves as an exhibition space, storage, work space, and administrative office. The museum has been an important achievement, which allows the archaeological investigations to be shared with the local community. The exhibitions are rotated regularly to show textiles conserved thanks to the Adopt-a-Textile program, which are used to teach visitors about ancient textiles and the chronology of pre-Hispanic art. In this sense, the very best way to involve the community has been through the museum. Investigating and promoting knowledge among the people has always been the goal of this project; we look forward to continuing this success story.
Adopting Institutions: Banco de Crédito; Prom Perú; AFP Horizonte; Instituto Francés de Estudios Andinos; Fundación Telefónica; Películas del Pacífico, Norway; Perú Imtex; Janatex; Industrias de Papel; Salamanca Ingenieros.
Special thanks to the students of Capilla de Asia, Franco-Peruano, and San Silvestre schools who, with the support of their teachers Cucha del Aguila, Claudia Castagnola, Cecilia Pennano, and Patricia Patiño, worked with enthusiasm to raise money to adopt several textiles.
Adopting Individuals: Dolores de Maransange; Aline Marocco; Bertrand Guiller; Adriana Von Hagen; Jacques Mandrea; Sophie Giordano; Vicky Krieger; Familia Morales Mujica; María Rostworowski; Denise Pozzi-Escot; Rommel Angeles; Luis Peña; María Eugenia Marín; Gael de Guichen; Daniéle Lavallée; Germán Costa; Rosario Dulanto; Enrique Melian; and William Isbell.
Conservators who have participated in the Adopt-a-Textile program: Gabriela Germaná; Ana Mujica; María Luisa Patrón; Luis Peña; Carmen Thays; Patricia Victorio; Camille Myers Breeze; Yael Rosenfeld; Sarah Pitt; Sarah Scaturro; Melina La Torre; Marylou Murillo; Maureen Whitaker; Ellan Spero; Aranza Hopkins Barriga.
Translated by Camille Myers Breeze