Salvage Archaeology

In November 1996 ranch hands felling trees across the lake glimpsed one of the burial structures. After slogging for a day up the steep, muddy slopes above the lake’s southern shore, they reached the tombs. Arrayed before the men were tombs filled with mummy bundles and their burial gifts. Over the next few months the men churned through the tombs, taking mummy bundles out of their tombs and slashing them open with machetes. In April 1997 news of the discovery made headlines in the Peruvian media, drawing a stream of journalists and tourists to the Laguna de los Cóndores. The lake’s remoteness —10 hours by mule from Leymebamba— made it impossible to control these visits. Visitors walked over a carpet of artifacts, posing for photographs with bodies stripped of their funerary garb, pocketing small “souvenirs” and clambering over the fragile tombs.

Faced with the disorder at the site and the accelerating deterioration of the organic remains in July 1997 Centro Mallqui embarked on a salvage mission, removing the contents of the tombs and taking them to a lab and storage area in Leymebamba, where experts could deal with the urgent conservation needs required by the organic remains.

From left to right: Rescue archaeology at the Laguna de los Condores chullpas; Mummy bundles, Mummy bundle slashed by a machete (Adriana von Hagen)