Archaeology Magazine Archive

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

Special Introductory Offer!
Squeezing the Squatters Volume 55 Number 4, July/August 2002
by Roger Atwood

[image]An archaeologist excavates a Puruchuco mummy in the shantytown of Tupac Amaru. (© Ira Block) [LARGER IMAGE]

Peruvian prosecutors have opened an investigation into archaeologist Guillermo Cock's excavations at a Lima squatter settlement after he revealed that money raised by residents to finance the dig, subject of a National Geographic cover story, was far greater than originally suggested.

A prosecutor for crimes against cultural patrimony, Victoria Montoya, questioned Cock, leaders of the Tupac Amaru shantytown, and officials of Peru's National Culture Institute (INC), which in 1999 gave the green light for excavations, said a spokesman for Montoya. The inquiry focuses on the dig's financing, he said, declining to give details.

Cock's article in National Geographic said residents "scraped together money to help fund our work." In fact they contributed $103,000, more than 70 percent of the project's direct costs, through a system of monthly "quotas" amounting to about $7 per family, Cock later told reporters.

With flimsy homes of plywood, adobe, and corrugated steel, the shantytown has no running water and most residents earn a few dollars a day. They financed the dig because they wanted to gain basic services like electricity and sewage, which could be installed only after the mummies were removed.

Cock said that how residents raised the money was their business, not his. "I can't interfere in the community's affairs, and it's important to differentiate between what they did to raise money and what we did to excavate the site" Cock told ARCHAEOLOGY. "I admire how organized they are and how they supported this project."

Squatters occupied the arid site known as Puruchuco-Huaquerones in 1989 and received a judge's permission to stay there in 1992. But as they built homes and sunk wells, the squatters kept bumping into Inka mummies. Unable to evict the squatters, but unwilling to allow them to lay sewer or power lines that could further damage the site, INC contracted Cock to remove the mummies and allow the institute to declare the area free of archaeological remains so the shantytown could get utilities. The dig's financing would come from the residents themselves.

Builders in Peru often hire an archaeologist to survey land to determine if it contains Prehispanic remains. If there are none, the researcher will then file a "Certificate of Inexistence of Archaeological Remains" with the local government that will allow the builder to get a permit and start construction. The system is designed to prevent ancient sites from being destroyed. In two years of frenetic salvaging, Cock and his team removed 1,286 mummy bundles containing up to 2,400 people from beneath the community's dusty alleys, racing against water damage from home runoff. Hundreds more are still underground and may never be salvaged.

One well-known archaeologist who asked not to be identified said he was shocked by the speed of the dig. "They were taking out five mummies a day. That's not archaeology; that's eviction."

Residents denied reports they were strong-armed into paying monthly quotas, but some said they sold or pawned belongings to pay or put their children to work. Some experts insist the amounts paid by the residents in this case seemed excessive. "That's really a lot, $103,000, for what is supposed to be an honorarium. No one should be paying that kind of money" said Cecilia Jaime Torres of Lima's Universidad de San Marcos. Last year the shantytown got electricity, but there is still no sewage system or potable water. Some residents were bitter Peru's government had still not installed running water despite their "investment." "We have invested enough and we want more results" said resident Daniel Santistéban. "This site isn't just mummies. There are living people here, too."

Cock defended the project's unconventional funding techniques and said the only alternative would have been the loss of the mummies to water damage and construction. Some bundles were only a few inches below ground level.

"There are people who say you should simply evict the squatters. But you can't evict the squatters, so what do you do? Be the possessor of the absolute highest ethical standards and let it all be destroyed? No. You make an agreement with the people and you get to work" he said. "I'm no Virgin Mary. I get my material and they get their basic services."

Montoya was relieved of the case after initial interrogations for what her spokesman described as personal reasons. A new prosecutor has not yet been named. INC spokeswoman Alicia Meza said the investigation was unlikely to lead to criminal charges but that the prosecutor would issue a final report with conclusions. Cock has been free to travel in and out of Peru, a sign prosecutors see no criminal liability on his part, said Meza.

© 2002 by the Archaeological Institute of America