One of the many hidden treasures of Lima is its numerous Huacas or Sacred Places. They are located throughout the Provence in its many districts and are in various stages of excavation, restoration or total neglect. Some of these sites were built by the Lima Culture and taken over by cultures such as the Wari, Ichma and Inca and used for their own purposes after the demise of the Lima Culture. Other sites were built by thes other cultures themselves. In this series of articles, I will take you on a visit to a few of them. The first will be the Huaca Pucllana located in the district of Miraflores.
Archaeologists seem to think that the Huaca Pucllana was one of the more important ones in the area. The Lima Culture flourished in the Chancay, Chillon, Rimac and Lurin Valleys from 200 AD to 700 AD. During this time they built several ceremonial centers to serve as religious and administrative centers. In size, it is a mere shadow of its former glory since urbanization has destroyed and covered most of the temples, surrounding plazas and buildings. They used the religious portion of the center for ceremonies to worship the gods of the Sea and Moon. The names of these Gods are lost to time, as the Lima people did not have a written language. The purposes and ceremonies are the theories of the archaeologists made from artwork found on pottery and cloth in burial pits at the site. Formal excavation and restoration of the site began in 1981.
The huge pyramidal Temple at the center of the complex had seven levels or plazas on which the priests held different ceremonies. Women and children were sacrificed to the gods and from some of the remains found on one of the levels it seems some were buried alive after ingesting powerful hallucinogens. Because of this and the worship of the sea and moon, some think that the Lima Culture may have been a matriarchal society. In the plaza on the top level of the pyramid, sacrifices of corn, cloth, ceramics, needles, and other items were found buried as offerings to the Gods. They have also found postholes, which held large wooden poles that did not support a roof. It is thought that these might have represented ancestors or held idols of their gods.
The pyramid and walls of the administrative complex are an engineering marvel in themselves. The site was built using handmade mud bricks, which were then dried in the sun. They did not use molds in the making of bricks for the original construction. After drying, these bricks were then stacked in library book fashion with small spaces between them. This served to absorb shocks from the many earthquakes felt in this area and resulted in minimal damage to the structures when they occurred. There are no chambers or passageways inside the pyramid itself. They performed all ceremonies and burials in the plazas.
One of the most interesting ceremonies performed on the plazas was the Pottery Breaking Ritual. The people would spend great amounts of time making large vessels and decorating them with symbols from the sea like the shark. Then in an act of devotion, they would break the large vessels with a stone and symbolically sacrifice their labor in making them to the Gods.
In time the Lima Culture went though changes in their ideology and society, probably as a result of an influx of ideas from the southern Andes, and the Huacas were abandoned. Some think that they covered up the Huacas with sand and dirt to protect them from other invading societies. In 700 AD the Wari, a military society, came into the area. They used the huge mounds to bury their elite as did the Ichma, which followed them. In time, people forgot about these centers and with the expansion of modern society, from 1940 on, they were used as dumping grounds for trash and trails for dirt bikes. Some were simply bulldozed in the construction of new homes and roads.
This site is definitely worth a visit if you are spending a little time in Lima. The cost of entry is S/.12 Soles or about $4.00 US. A guide is provided with this fee but they are all volunteers so a tip is appreciated at the end of their tour. Included in the tour are a walkthrough of a small zoo area containing wild ducks, llamas and cuy (guinea pigs) as well as samples of native plant life and crops. You might also get to meet the Peruvian hairless dog on your visit. There is also a small museum on the site containing artifacts found during excavations of the site. They estimate that it will take another 15 to 20 years to finish excavations and restorations to the site.
Entrance: Calle General Borgono cuadra 8 s/n
Miraflores, Lima – Peru
Open: Wednesday – Monday, closed Tuesdays
Web site: http://pucllana.peruculture.org.pe