Recuperación de Voces Perdidas: Bioarchaeology of the Coastal Moche Valley Peoples

Although I have spent only eight months here in Peru, I feel like I’ve been here for a few thousand years. This is probably due to the fact that as an archaeologist, I am constantly exposed to the rich history and culture that Peru holds. Everywhere you look, there seems to be physical evidence of a connection to Peru’s past.

As a bioarcheologist, my job is to read the bones of those who have passed before us. Through my analyses, I can determine an individual’s gender, ancestry, age, health status, diet, and even markers of occupational stress and trauma just from their bones. In partnership with a team based at the Universidad Nacional de Trujillo, I have been working closely with archaeologists and archaeology students to learn more about the coastal cultures of Peru, specifically those who occupied the Moche Valley (Cupisnique, Salinar, Gallinazo, Virú, Moche, Chimú). Much is known about the Inca, who largely occupied Peru’s highlands, but less is known about the peoples of the northern coast—and even less is known about their skeletal remains.

My Fulbright research has allowed me to directly address this gap in the bioarchaeological knowledge and literature. By using my skills in bioarchaeological analysis to tell the story of individuals of the past, I can provide a voice for those who no longer have one. These skills have also allowed me to connect with Peruvians in the present: I began my time here digging alongside final-year archaeology students from the Universidad Nacional de Trujillo (UNT) at a

cemetery site near the Colonial Church in Huanchaco north of Trujillo city. I developed deep friendships with some of these students, who taught me about the archaeology of the area (and helped me improve my Spanish grammar). In turn, I added to their knowledge about how to excavate, register, and care for excavated human remains.

Since the season finished, I have been working on analyzing all these remains in the archaeology lab at UNT. I get to work alongside my new friends every day, and to teach them about my specialization. This collaborative effort of archaeology, science, and academia is highly rewarding to me. It provides me a means of restoring visibility to the individuals excavated from the site in the historical record, and enables me to give the UNT students a means by which to take control of their own cultural patrimony. Representation and belonging are themes that deeply resonate with me as the daughter of a Mexican immigrant, and a first generation-low income student at Penn. I look forward to growing with these students as we are the next generation of Peruvian/Andean archaeologists.

In my time here on a Fulbright, I’ve been able to meet many people in the Ministry of Culture as well as other professionals who work in the area. I had the opportunity to serve as a bioarchaeology consultant at Batán Grande (Sicán), and our discovery of sacrificial burials made Peruvian national news and even reached as far as National Geographic Spain! I’ve also helped with rescue excavations that are currently occurring at the site of Pampa la Cruz in Huanchaco, consulting and excavating human remains.

When I’m not excavating or in the lab, I frequently go to towns in the Moche Valley to assist on survey archaeology hikes (some of which were 1600 meters in vertical distance)! I’ve become friends with someone who works on community service projects, and so I have gotten to spend time getting to know members of these communities. I was even able to help with the construction of an elementary school from plastic bottles. Although I truly love my job and my research, I’m so appreciative of this chance to be a part of a larger community and find a home in Trujillo.

I’m nearing the end of my Fulbright year, and this only begins to touch on the things I’ve been able to experience. Some of my skeletal analyses will be presented at the Society for American Archaeologists (SAAs) Annual Meeting in April 2018, and I will be presenting a paper in Ottawa, Canada as part of a Fulbright Enrichment Seminar. I’m working on a manuscript with the leading archaeologist of the excavations in Huanchaco that we hope to submit for publication in the next couple months. My burial reports will be used in future publications on the excavations at Batán Grande. I will also be able to use the data I’m collecting for my dissertation, as I will be starting my PhD in Bioarchaeology at Michigan State University in the Fall of 2018. I’m so thankful to Fulbright for providing me all these opportunities, and for the support and encouragement I received from all of the staff at CURF during my time as a Penn student and University Scholar.

Jordi Rivera Prince is a 2017-2018 Fulbright U.S. Research Grant recipient to Peru. She graduated from Penn in 2016 with a degree in Anthropology. She will continue her study of the bioarchaeology of ancient maritime communities on the north coast of Peru as a PhD student at Michigan State University in fall 2018.


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