Blog

Cerro Sechín and the 2014 Watch: An Opportunity for Change

In Andean prehistory, Cerro Sechín represents the link between the Kotosh religious tradition (2500–200 B.C.) and Chavin civilization (800–200 B.C.). The site is part of a string of exceptional monuments in the Casma Valley, such as Sechín Bajo, the oldest known temple in the New World; Sechín Alto, the largest construction of its time in the western hemisphere; and Chankillo, America´s earliest known solar observatory. These and other monuments in this area represent the remains of the oldest known civilization in the Americas.

Cerro Sechín itself is of extraordinary value, as it contains a unique display of more than 300 carved monoliths, among the oldest in this hemisphere. Iconographically, these are simpler than the later Chavin-style carvings, yet a great source on several aspects of Early Formative period life, such as the attire (head and body dress, weapons, trophy-heads) of priest-warriors, or their knowledge of human anatomy (there is accurate detail in the carvings, for instance, in depictions of the digestive system). The religious aspect of these sculptures seems related to other well-known ceremonial contexts concerning ritual combat and human sacrifice.

After decades of research, starting with Tello in the 1930s, then Samaniego in the 1970s, and finally a Peruvian-German conservation and public use project in the 1980s, an important part of the archaeological interpretation of Cerro Sechín has disseminated to the modern population of Casma. It has generated civic consciousness about the value of preserving their pre-Hispanic cultural heritage, strengthening their identification with the past. Proof of this connection is the use of Cerro Sechín iconography in the decoration of the main buildings and plazas of Casma city.

Despite its worldwide importance, the stone monument at Cerro Sechín has not been treated since its excavation and restoration for public use in the 1970s. These unique sculptures are completely unprotected, suffering cracking and erosion, losing their images to the elements (solar radiation, dust, wind, and rain) and seismic activity. Conservation work to prevent the accelerating decay of its monoliths is urgent. The site museum exhibit, now almost 30 years old, is outdated and in need of an overhaul. Finally, the museum is lacking in community outreach programs.

The inclusion of Cerro Sechín on the 2014 World Monuments Watch is meant to give to the site a high profile and validation to the proposal for conservation and revalorization work. It is urgent to renew and expand existing museum and visitor infrastructure, as well as to carry out conservation interventions in its murals and carvings. In addition, Watch-listing will improve stakeholder engagement at every level, and call the attention of the public, the government, and private companies to support and fund the required renovation and conservation projects.