Site History and Significance
One of the Oldest Coastal Andean Civilizations in Peru
Cerro Sechín is part of an archipelago of archaeological complexes in the Casma Valley that includes Sechín Alto, Sechín Bajo, Manchan, Chankillo, and others located near the Pan-American Highway, and is one of the oldest coastal Andean civilizations in Peru. Situated 230 miles (370 kilometers) north of Lima near the Sechín River in the Casma Valley, the ceremonial center was discovered in 1937 by Julio C. Tello, the father of Peruvian archaeology.
Excavations Uncover Ancient Structures
Early excavations at the ceremonial site uncovered 98 carved stone slabs along the outer wall of one building. The carvings date to 1770–1510 BCE and depict combat rituals as well as human sacrifice. Further studies determined that the site is made up of six structures that were part of a later complex that surrounded earlier earthen structures. Polychrome wall paintings dated between 2290 and 2020 BCE have been found on the surface of older earthen structures and depict stylized figures of felines, an animal revered in Peru’s Formative period (2000–200 BCE). In total, over 300 carved stone slabs have been uncovered at Cerro Sechín, representing one of the earliest ornamented sites in the Americas. Some of its iconography is used in the decoration of the main public buildings and plazas in the city of Casma.
Renovation of the Regional Museum of Casma “Max Uhle”
Decades of archaeological explorations at Cerro Sechín culminated with the opening of a site museum in 1984. In 2018, thanks to funds provided by the U.S. Embassy in Peru, World Monuments Fund (WMF) and the Ministry of Culture collaborated to renovate the Regional Museum of Casma “Max Uhle,” whose facilities and displays required updates after more than 30 years of use. Renovations to the museum included new lighting systems, display cases, 3D models, and exhibition panels, and freshly painted walls. In addition, new exhibition content was created to feature information about Cerro Sechín, Chankillo, and other relevant archaeological sites in the Casma region. The improved facilities offer visitors a better cultural, educational, and touristic experience, and help generate public awareness for conservation needs at these sites.
Conservation of Cerro Sechín's Carved Monoliths
Despite receiving over 17,000 visitors each year, the stone slabs at the archaeological site have not been treated since their excavation and restoration for public appreciation in the 1970s. As a result, the unique monoliths suffer from cracking and erosion due to exposure to the elements and seismic activity. Cerro Sechín was included on the 2014 World Monuments Watch in order to encourage action for the conservation and management of the site.
WMF supported a condition assessment in 2020 of the stone slabs at Cerro Sechín. As expected, the study concluded that the slabs, mainly in the east and west flanks, face irreversible loss without immediate intervention.
In September 2021, the U.S. Embassy in Peru announced that Cerro Sechín was awarded a grant from the Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation (AFCP). As a next step, WMF Peru will carry out conservation to clean, stabilize, and consolidate the stone slabs. The project will furthermore build the capacity of community members and local residents in monitoring and maintenance techniques, as well as introduce guided tours and workshops aimed at engaging nearby communities in the the long-term preservation of the site.
World Monuments Fund safeguards cultural heritage around the globe, ensuring our treasured places are preserved for present and future generations.
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World Monuments Fund’s work at this site is made possible, in part, by the U.S. Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation (AFCP) and the U.S. Embassy Lima, as well as the Tianaderrah Foundation/Nellie and Robert Gipson.