From April to September 2014, the National Geographic Museum, located in downtown Washington DC, will feature an exhibit entitled: “Peruvian Gold: Ancient Treasures Unearthed.” As the title implies, the renowned society will feature a lengthy exhibition of pre-Inca gold and silver craftsmanship.
This rich display will kick off this upcoming Thursday, April 10, with an evening exhibition and opening night party hosted by Fredrik Hiebert, National Geographic’s Archaeology Fellow and the exhibition’s curator, and Cecilia Bakula, director of the Museum of Peru’s Banco Central de Reserva (Central Reserve Bank).
A February 26 National Geographic press release gives further insight into the types of pre-Inca artifacts that will be in display. Among them will be the El Tocado, which is “the largest and most ornate pre-Columbian headdress ever discovered.” This gold headdress dates back to the Middle Sican period (A.D. 900-1100) and this is the first time that it will be on display in the United States since it was unearthed in 1991.
Kathryn Keane, vice president of National Geographic Exhibitions, highlights the historical ties between National Geographic and Peru’s heritage. She explains that “National Geographic has been sharing the stories and the archaeology of ancient Peru for more than 100 years.”
It would seem that National Geographic will have to do another exhibition focusing on different Peruvian cultures as, in the past couple of years, there have been successful archeological excavations in the Andean nation. For example, three tombs (two from the Inca era and one pre-Inca) were discovered in the Salapunku complex around Machu Picchu, in 2012. A year later, in mid-2013, the tomb of a prominent woman from the Moche culture was discovered in San Jose de Moro in the Jequetepeque River valley of northern Peru.
It is worth stressing that Peruvian culture, both Inca and pre-Inca has long been the subject of interest among U.S. scholars and history aficionados. This past December 2013, the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, also located in Washington DC, hosted an evening presentation provocatively titled: “To Write or Knot? Recent Advances in the Study of Andean Knotted Cord Records.”
The event’s speaker was Gary Urton, the Dumbarton Oaks Professor of Pre Columbian Studies and Chairman of the Department of Anthropology at Harvard University. Professor Urton’s presentation (which the author of this commentary had the pleasure of attending) was an insightful discussion about advances in understanding the quipus, a complicated system of knots that made up what is regarded as the “written language” of the Incas. The Harvard scholar discussed the different types of quipus that have been discovered and put forth some of his theories on what the length of a knot, its type, as well as the color of the string, could possibly mean.
If nothing else, the National Geographic exhibition and the December 2013 presentation regarding quipus at Dumbarton Oaks highlights the fascination that people around the world have for the plethora of cultures, both the Incas and the numerous before them, that existed in Peru centuries ago.
Hence, it is tragic to see that while other parts of the world, such as the U.S., revere Inca and pre-Inca cultures; there has not been the same amount of interest among segments of Peruvian society to protect these priceless relics. This past March, there was theterrible desecration of Cuzco’s famous twelve-angle stone: an unknown individual spray painted what appears to be the initials “JHR” on it.
Due to such vandalism, the Peruvian government has turned to technology for aid. For example, agencies of Peru’s Ministry of Culture are acquiring aerial drones that can be used both for archeological investigations (by serving as an “eye in the sky”) as well as to protect historical sites. This past March, a workshop on how touse drones for archeological goalswas carried out in the Museum of Sipan, in Peru’s Lambayeque region. Additionally, the Peruvian government will install new security cameras in Machu Picchu to crack down on theinfamous nude tourism.
Without a doubt it is marvelous that renowned institutions like National Geographic and Dumbarton Oaks as well as renowned scholars are both interested and marveled by Peru’s historical heritage. But, to paraphrase a popular cliché, with a great heritage comes great responsibility. Having a rich history means that the Peruvian government and society in general must have the willingness and resources to protect it.