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Julio C. Tello and the Paracas Peninsula

Following the trail of ancient textiles purchased on the illegal market in 1925, Peruvian archaeologist Julio C. Tello (April 1880–June 1947) found himself in Peru. In true detective fashion, he discovered some truly astonishing remains from the Paracas culture—an Andean society that lived between 750 B.C. and 100 C.E.—in the foundation of a stone building on the Paracas Peninsula. His next important find came two years later during his second expedition with fellow archaeologist Toribio Mejia Xesspe. During that trip, the two excavated an area near a hill known as Cerro Colorado on Peru’s south coast and discovered 429 ceremonial mummy bundles.

Tello’s excavation of the mummies and textiles contributed significantly to our understanding of this important culture. Upon unwrapping the first mummy bundle, Tello and his team saw they contained the desiccated body of a male adult set inside a basket filled with maize, yucca, peanuts, and other food. Some of the bodies inside the bundles were wrapped in alternating layers of plain cotton, including embroidered mantles, ponchos, multicolored shirts, turbans, and bags. Interspersed among the layers of cloth were ornaments of gold, weapons, pottery, and woven-cane fans fringed with feathers. What a person was buried with varied perhaps according to the status of the individual in the Paracas society.

Text Source: Burger, Richard L. The Life and Writings of Julio C. Tello: America's First Indigenous Archaeologist. University of Iowa Press, 2009. Stuart, George E. Ancient Pioneers: The First Americans. Washington, DC: National Geographic Society, 2001. National Geographic Virtual Library.
Photograph by:
  • Julio César Tello