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Tucume archaeological complex


Purgatorio (purgatory) is the name by which local people refer to the dozens of prehispanic pyramids, enclosures and mounds found on the plain around La Raya Mountain, south of the La Leche River. This is the site of Tucume, covering an area of over 540 acres and encompassing 26 major pyramids and platforms.
This site was a major regional center, maybe even the capital of the successive occupations of the area by the Lambayeque/Sican (1000/1100-1350 AD) CHECK CHECK, Chimú (1350-1450 AD) and Inca (1450-1532 AD). Local shaman healers (“curanderos”) invoke the power of Tucume and La Raya Mountain in their rituals, and local people fear these sites. Hardly anyone other than
The plains of Tucume are part of the Lambayeque Valley, the largest valley of the North Coast of Peru. The Lambayeque Valley boats scores natural and man-made waterways. lt is also a region of numerous pyramids
Tucume lies on what was once the southern margin of the valley, but thanks to the Taymi irrigation canal (over 43 miles long), which brings water northward from the Chancay river, it is surrounded by fertile agricultural land. lt seems very likely that the construction of the Taymi canal coincided with the foundation of Tucume, an important center of the region throughout its 400-year history. Modern Tucume, which lies very close to the site and boasts its own prehispanic village pyramid, Huaca del Pueblo, is located 17 miles north of the city of Chiclayo.

The largest and most impressive pyramids are found in the monumental sector of the archaeological site, to the north and northeast of La Raya Mountain (“Mountain of the Ray”). Investigations carried out in conjunction with Thor Heyerdahl, the famous Norwegian seafarer and explorer, have concentrated on three major structures: Huaca Larga, Huaca 1 and The U-shaped "Temple of the Sacred Stone". Excavations in non-monumental areas have yielded many details about the functioning of the site -some prefer the term city- and about the lives of its inhabitants.
The beginnings of Tucume are to be found in a legend recorded by Father Cabello de Balboa (1586 AD). Cala, a grandson of the mythical Naymlap, founder of the Lambayeque royal dynasty, is said to have gone to Tucume to "start new fan-tilies and settlements, bringing many people him with". The founding of the settlement seems to have taken place around 1000-1100 AD, when the old regional center at Batán Grande, to the south of the Chancay river, was burnt and abandoned. Tucume quickly rose to a preeminent position within the valley.
Evidence of the Chimú conquest, around 1350 AD, as well as the later Inca occupation of the region, by 1470 AD, has been found in ceramics, burials and dedicatory offerings. In Huaca Larga, for example, archaeologists discovered the lavish burial of a prominent Inca general, possibly the Inca governor of Tucume. Some archaeologists believe that the fire that razed the central part of Huaca Larga may coincide with the beginnings of the colonial period and of the abandonment of the site



Huaca 1 (Pyramid 1) rises 98-feet high behind the new site museum, west of Huaca Las Estacas (Pyramid of the Stakes). lt is a stepped pyramid with a long, high and narrow access ramp that makes several right-angle turns up the body of the pyramid. Two plazas, one to the north and a huge, 689 by 259-feet plaza, surrounded by high walls to the south, together with several ample annexes, also correspond to this structure. One of these annexes, referred to as "The Bell-Shaped Building" stands out as a unique Andean example of outcurving, i.e. overhanging walls, somewhat reminiscent of Japanese architecture. On top of Huaca 1 there are a series of rooms situated at different levels with access ramps and stairways. These rooms probably were living quarters of the Lambayeque elite. During the Chimú period (1350-1470 AD) Huaca 1 continued in use and bird friezes were added as a form of architectural ornamentation


Huaca Larga, or the Long Pyramid, is the longest adobe structure known to date. lt measures around 2,300-feet in length, from the foot of La Raya Mountain to the short, straight access ramp on the north end. Its beginnings as a freestanding platform of the
Lambayeque, or Sican, culture (1000/1100-1350 AD), which is referred to as the “green phase”, are obscured by substantial remodeling that took place in the subsequent “tricolor phase”.

All buildings of this period, which marks the Chimú domination of the area, were painted in red, white and black. The murals depicting flying birds in the "Temple of the Mythical Bird" stand out as fine examples of Chimú painting. Apparently, the Chimú tried to convert Huaca Larga into something resembling a Chan Chan compound. Long corridors and dividing walls partition the complex, and researchers have identified a northern, possibly public, ceremonial area and a southern area devoted to cooking and manufacturing.

The Inca presence at Huaca Larga (1470-1532 AD) is referred to as the “stone phase” due to their preference for stone as construction material. Weaving of delicate textiles, an activity the Inca often entrusted to consecrated women, was practiced at Huaca Larga during Inca times. This tradition may well go back to Chimú or even pre-Chimú times. Burials of 19 high-status, female Inca weavers included a collection of elaborate objects. This burial site, which was found under one of the Inca-built rooms, yielded high-quality, wooden implements for spinning and weaving and inlaid earspools. In a different room atop Huaca Larga, researchers discovered three male burials, one of them of a mature, robust man with insignia, suggesting he may have been the Inca governor of Tucume.

Shortly after these burials took place, all standing structures on Huaca Larga were razed and huge tires lit on top. Oral history recalls that enormous fires were lit by the Spanish colonists to convince the local population that Tucume was indeed the gate to purgatory


The "Temple of the Sacred Stone" is a small, unpretentious, rectangular U-shaped structure to the east of Huaca Larga. lt is considered a major temple that travelers had to pass by before entering the site. The walled roadway system of this section of the Lambayeque valley leads straight to this temple and then on to Huaca Larga.
The special, revered object of this temple appears to have been a large, upright boulder in the middle of the one-room building, but whom or what it represented remains unknown. Furthermore, archaeologists found an enormous number of offerings in and around the temple. These offerings included valuable Spondylus shells (a seashell) brought from the coast of Guayaquil, slaughtered lamas and intriguing sheet-metal miniatures representing a wide range of themes and objects (flora, fauna, ornaments, musical instruments, tools, etc.). The most delicate of Inca offerings, figurines made of solid silver or carved Spondylus and adorned with elaborate textiles, silver tupu-needles and miniature feather headdresses, were found deposited in ritual fashion by the doorway of the temple. Researchers have found similar offerings, sometimes together with human sacrifices, at other major Inca shrines. For example, just a few years back a researcher exploring the top of the snow-capped Ampato Mountain in the southern Peruvian department of Arequipa found the intact mummy of an Inca girl, whom he nicknamed "Juanita".


Although Huaca Balsas has suffered heavily from damage inflicted by looting, its beautiful friezes, of a quality previously unknown in the Lambayeque region, are one of Tucumes most interesting features. These include the frieze known as “the Mound of the Rafts", which is located on the southwestern margin of the site in the only group of large pyramids outside the monumental sector (see above). While the "Frieze of the Rafts" depicts a mythical scene in which a bird-man and a mythical bird lead a raft, following a similar boat with a related crew, the "Frieze of the Rite" depicts a figure who may be a priest inside a roofed structure and holding a lama in one hand and a staff in the other. While their precise meaning remains unclear, archeologist Alfredo Narváez sees a revival of the earlier Moche tradition of fine-line drawing, as seen in their exquisite ceramics, transposed to a different medium. A narrative character has been attributed to the Moche ceramic drawings. Thus, the friezes of Huaca Balsas may depict scenes that form part of one or more Lambayeque myths     
Constructed entirely of mudbrick in the lower La Leche Valley, the imposing site of Túcume on Peru's arid North Coast was in use for nearly a millennium, having been built by the Lambayeque at the beginning of the tenth century, conquered by the Chimú in 1375, and subsumed into the Inca Empire in 1470, under which it flourished until the arrival of the Spanish in 1532. The site, which is spread over more than 220 hectares, boasts 26 enormous adobe pyramids, most of which were constructed in stages throughout the site's occupation. Eroded by centuries of El Niño southern oscillation events, Túcume's monuments are today a mere shadow of their creators' architectural vision, yet the archaeological remains they contain make the site one of the most important in northern Peru. The fragility of the construction, aggressive climate, and lack of economic resources, however, have resulted in a pattern of progressive deterioration of the site. The most significant losses, from heavy rains and strong winds, have been reduced building volume and damaged painted murals. The Túcume area has been slated for tourism development in Peru, however, concerns have been raised over the development of the site without proper attention to conservation. The site's listing in 2004 attracted substantial private-sector support for the site's preservation, but a long-term plan for the conservation of its fragile and eroding remains has yet to be developed

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