Monday (May 18) was national museum day here in Perú, which means that entry to most museums was free for the day. The guide at Huaca Pucllana, Jorge, advised our group on Sunday that we should be sure to take advantage, and try to hit some of museums with the highest entrance fees that day. Good call. I asked him what his first choice was, and without skipping a beat, he said: “Museo Larco. It’s the best museum in Lima.”
So I went to Museo Larco. And wow, am I glad I did. It was everything Jorge said it would be, and then some. The grounds themselves are gorgeous, and I could have spent an hour just admiring the landscaping. I got a little self conscious because the guards kept looking at me, like, what the hell are you doing, lady? The museum’s that way! But life’s too short not to stop and smell the roses, right?
I mean, seriously.
But, I did come with a purpose, and I knew there was a lot to see, so pretty soon I started moving more intently towards my destination: the permanent exhibit in the main gallery.
As one of the six cradles of civilization of the world, and an area that has been populated for over 14,000 years, with defined civilizations dating back at least 5,000 years, Peru is rich in history, in spite of the conquistadores’ efforts to erase it. Sadly, much has been lost to the destructive forces of the colonial Spanish crown, but a great deal remains, as well. Rafael Larco Hoyle, the archeologist responsible for assembling this epic collection, had gathered by 1950 a staggering number of relics from the coastal valleys and key highlands areas of Peru. Through a great deal of study and classification, Larco (who undoubtedly worked with others but is credited almost solely for this work) identified seven Peruvian epochs, from the pre-ceramic period to the conquest (for the curious among you, those include: (1) the Pre-Ceramic epoch, 8000-2000 B.C.; (2) the Early Ceramic Epoch, 2000-1250 B.C.; (3) the Formative Epoch, 1250 B.C. – 1 A.D.; (4) the Apogee Epoch, 1-800 A.D.; (5) the Fusion Epoch, 800-1300 A.D.; (6) the Imperial Epoch, 1300-1532 A.D.; and (7) the Conquest, 1532 A.D.).
As emphasized by this timeline, a number of civilizations existed before the famed Incan empire of the imperial epoch, and through the artifacts that have been recovered by archeologists, primarily in the form of funerary offerings that were entombed along with the deceased, one can see small glimmers of life as it might have been in ancient Peru.
A large percentage of the artifacts collected and displayed at Museo Larco are indeed from later epochs, as those that came before are buried much deeper within stratified layers of earth. I must admit, I was a little overwhelmed by the number of periods and civilizations they contained, and trying to hold so much information in my mind (while still enjoying the exhibit) was difficult, at best. And frankly, the idea of trying to rehash that here makes my brain hurt a little, soooooo, without getting into details about most of the objects that I photographed, here, in chronological order, are some of the highlights:
That last image is of a quipo, which was the main vehicle/system for registering information during the Inca empire. Everything from the length of the individual cords, to their color, to the knots they contained, and their relationship to those around them held a special significance. Unfortunately, very few of these remain, as most were destroyed after the conquest.
These were used to slit throats in sacrificial offering (those of both humans and animals alike).
Miniature funerary offerings, buried along with a young Chimú woman.
Trepanated skulls! Whoa. Can you tell who lived through the procedure and who didn’t? (Hint: the key is to look for bone regeneration around the trepanation site)
Ear adornments. Check out THOSE plugs, Michael! These are the ultimate in early status symbols, and bigger is definitely better in this context.
By the Formative Epoch, adornment is an increasingly important sign of wealth, prestige, status, and sacred origen. Metals such as gold and silver soon become key markers, worn in a variety of ways from head to foot. Curiously, clear distinctions were made between gold and silver, with gold representing the sun, the day, and the masculine, and silver representing the moon, the night, and the feminine.
I spent a couple hours going through the main gallery, and then made my way towards one of the revolving exhibits, in this case: the erotic gallery. It was composed almost entirely of ceramics depicting sexual encounters or sexual organs. The phallus was especially celebrated, (surprise surprise!), but there were also some representations of childbirth and maternity. I’m not going to break these down for you, as they’re pretty self-explanatory:
Part way through my visit, the museum filled up with what turned out to be an entire tour bus of goofy international tourists (each group had their own guide, based on language, which started to feel/sound really schizophrenic and weird). Anyway, it was largely just a sensory issue for me (so much noise! so many different sounds!), but by the time the erotic gallery started to get packed, things got a little surreal. I’ve never seen so many adults giggle and blush and stammer about representations of sex in any language, let alone five! The U.S. citizens were the worst, of course, but the others were pretty juvenile, too.
Anyway, I was pretty over the group tourist scene at that point, so I started heading towards the door. It had taken me three buses to get there and I had three buses to take home, but I must say, it was very well worth the effort. If any of you make it to Lima anytime soon, this is one museum that is not to be missed.