Interview With Guillermo Cock

National Geographic News
April 17, 2002

AOL Members: Chat with lead scientist Willy Cock online at 9 p.m. U.S. Eastern Time, Thursday, April 18, at AOL Keyword Archaeology

Peruvian-born archaeologist Guillermo (Willy) Cock is an expert on Andean cultures and has been doing archaeological work in Peru since 1983. Cock completed postgraduate work in anthropology at Catholic University in Lima, Peru.

He earned his masters degree in archaeology at the University of California, Los Angeles, where he remains a Research Associate at the Fowler Museum of Cultural History. He is also a member of the Asociación Peruana de Etnohistoria.

He has authored more than 30 publications, books, articles, and papers on the history, culture, and archaeology of the Andes.Throughout his career, Cock has served as a researcher, project director, and consultant for Andean exhibitions at museums in Peru and the United States.

He has held top governmental positions, as an advisor to the Minister of Education of Peru and as chief archaeologist for Peru's National Institute of Culture. He frequently consults with the National Geographic Society on a wide variety of topics, including the Moche, the Inca, and Francisco Pizarro. Cock also has extensive field experience, having led archaeological expeditions at Pacatnam and Dos Cabezas in the Jequetepeque Valley and at Chira-Villa, Garagay, and Puruchuco in the Rimac Valley.

In 1999 Cock and a team of archaeologists began an excavation that has become a salvage operation. The Puruchuco site is outside the city of Lima, where a group of squatters has settled—they call their community Tupac Amaru after the last Inca ruler who was beheaded by the Spanish in 1572.

The shantytown has mushroomed over the past ten years, transforming the unexplored archaeological site into an urban sprawl. More than 1,200 families have settled there, directly on top of an ancient burial site believed to be the second-largest excavated Inca cemetery in Peru. With no sewage system, the residents dump thousands of gallons of water into the archaeological area each day. Utility companies, installing electrical poles to provide the most basic of necessities, are at risk of disturbing graves. The arid lands have preserved the past in its sands for centuries, and now modern development is destroying it at an alarming clip.

Under the auspices of the National Geographic Society, Cock and his team worked around the clock during three archaeological field seasons in 1999, 2000 and 2001, excavating human remains, mummies, and mummy bundles, which are large funerary bundles that contain more than one corpse. In all, they extracted the remains of approximately 2,200 individuals, representing a full spectrum of rank and age.

While this is an impressive take, Cock believes that they have uncovered no more than 40 percent of what lies beneath the surface. Without more time and funding, the remaining "urban mummies" will never be recovered.

Q&A with Guillermo Cock, Puruchuco Project Leader

Q: What exactly have you uncovered at Puruchuco?

GC: We estimate that we have human remains belonging to between 2,200 and 2,400 individuals, which is an incredible number of people for this kind of excavation. Of special note are almost 40 falsas cabezas (false heads) bundles that we have excavated. Prior to our excavations, only one falsas cabezas bundle from the Inca Period had been recovered by an archaeologist, in 1956.

Q: What is the significance of the find?

GC: Practically all of the individuals belong to the Late Horizon, or Inca, Period. We can safely say that most of these burials—99.8 percent, perhaps—were put into the ground within a period of 75 years, which makes this a really unique sample of Andean archaeology. This is not only the second-largest excavated ancient cemetery in Peru, but also it appears to be the largest cemetery for a single time period ever excavated in Peru. With such high numbers, it's going to take several years to investigate, analyze, and draw conclusions.

Continued on Next Page >>


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