When Barrick sponsored the excavation of pre-Incan ruins in Peru’s Ancash region seven years ago, nobody expected the team to make one of the region’s biggest archaeological discoveries in living memory. Now the site, located in Huaraz, is home to a museum that houses a trove of ceramic artifacts recovered from the ruins.
In 2004, Barrick signed an agreement with Peru’s National Institute of Culture to excavate and conserve the ruins of an ancient regional burial ground called Ichic Willkawain, and excavations began in 2006. The burial ground was built by the Wari people, precursors to the Inca who existed between 600-900 AD.
“The ruins were already known to local residents and were in great disrepair after enduring centuries of inclement weather and neglect,” says Carlos Cabanillas, Barrick’s Corporate Affairs Manager in Peru. “The real discoveries to be made were hidden inside the ruins.”
The Wari worshiped the dead through ceramic offerings in order to build a stronger connection to their ancestors. Within weeks of commencing excavations, the team was astounded to discover a hoard of ceramic pots and statuettes.
“As the project developed, we realized that we had in hand an incredible archaeological discovery,” says Juan Paredes, the project leader. “In addition to the ceramics, the team found many mausoleums with their offering chambers mostly intact.”
The mausoleums, called chullpas, are several stories high. In front of the main chullpa the team uncovered a three meter-by-one meter subterranean offering chamber that contained a number of ceramics.
“This was the most surprising find: 25 well-preserved ceramic vessels and jewelry showcasing different artistic styles from the surrounding regions in this one chamber,” Paredes says. “This suggests that Ichic Willkawain was the most important regional burial and cultural site.”
By the time the excavation was done in 2008, Ichic Willkawain yielded over 240 ceramic pots and statuettes. The archaeological team believes the site was more than just a cemetery, as it contained living quarters for what they believe were administrators of the site.
As part of restoration and conservation efforts of the site, the team repaired leaking roofs, constructed new footpaths and added an information booth to educate tourists about the site. Locals were trained to care for the site and as tour guides. Barrick also donated information panels that give further historic detail about the site. The ceramic artifacts discovered are conserved, restored and on display in the Archaeological Museum of Ancash’s exhibit, “Ichic Willkawain: Where Death Gave Life.”
“We are very proud to have contributed to the restoration and conservation of this site and to a better understanding of the pre-Incan era,” Cabanillas says.