Pumacayán: A short history of heritage

M any tourists that visit Huaraz know little about the city’s history upon their arrival. In fact, even many of the residents are under the impression that their city’s history started in the colonial period upon the arrival of the Spanish. On the contrary, this area has been occupied for millennia, as evidenced by the site of Pumacayán.

Only a few blocks away from the Plaza de Armas, Pumacayán is an archaeological monument with a deep significance to the region that persisted over the course of multiple cultural shifts. It would have been a powerful place where communities formed and celebrated shared identities, paid homage to their ancestors and the powerful beings embedded in their landscape, and made lasting memories and social connections between communities.

Although little research has been conducted at the site, local archaeologist Lic. Jhon Cruz and I have conducted research on the site’s stratigraphy that was exposed during the construction of a road through the mound in 2003. Based on the evidence available, Pumacayán was first built as a platform perhaps 3000 years ago around the same time as Chavín de Huantar. Subsequently, the Recuay people piled stones and earth on top of the platform, expanding its width and height over the following centuries. The Inca were the last to add to the structure, adopting the place as a sacred space of their own in order to lay claim to the local region during their conquest. Pumacayán appears as a large hill today, covered in vegetation and trash deposited by modern visitors. Unfortunately, since the invasion of the Spanish, Pumacayán has been quarried for its finely cut stone to be used as building material, and over the centuries since, houses were built around and atop the mound. In the last few years, local efforts achieved the evacuation of residents atop the mound and removal of the houses there, although a small church still remains as evidence of attempted Christian conversion of the structure. Significant cleaning and conservation of the site remains to be done.

The current state of Pumacayán is congruent with the bad track record Huaraz has with its archaeological heritage. The Parque de los Incas, constructed in the late 1990s, is one example. Contrary to its name that appears to pay homage to pre-Hispanic heritage, several pre-Inca tombs were demolished to make way for the park. Just one tomb still stands, albeit with the statues of the legendary first Incas, Manqu Qhapaq and Mama Uqllu, standing on top. The tomb now serves as a storage closet for cleaning equipment.

Although you might not find much of this information in guidebooks or promotional pamphlets, Huaraz is a city rich in archaeological heritage. However, because these histories are not well advertised and the site of Pumacayán does not appear as grand as it once was, the pre-Hispanic history of the place now called Huaraz is still very much alive.

Pumacayán still watches diligently over its domain, witness to all of the changes that have taken place there over the course of its lifetime. Since most of Huaraz’ historic architecture was destroyed in the 1970 earthquake, Pumacayán is truly one of the last pieces of history left standing in the city. If you are interested to know more about Huaraz’ history, I hope that you will take the time to visit Pumacayán during your stay and hear some of the stories that it has to tell.

About the author:

Julia Earle is an archaeologist with a bachelors and masters from the University of Toronto. She is interested in researching the labour and technologies involved in the construction of pre-Hispanic monuments. Julia is currently involved in two projects, one in Huaraz with the objective to promote awareness of Pumacayán, and an expedition funded by the National Geographic Society in Pampacolca, Peru. She lives in Austin, Texas, where she will begin her Doctoral studies in August 2017.


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