Peru: Preservation Efforts in the Chan Chan Archaeological Site

Chan Chan is the Pre-Columbian city of mud-brick built by the Chimú culture in the 9th Century and located in the La Libertad region, 5 km west of the city of Trujillo in Northern Peru. The Chan Chan complex covers an area of approximately 20 km² and was constructed by the Chimor, the kingdom of the Chimú and lasted until its conquest by the Inca Empire in the year 1470. At its height, estimates place the population at 30,000.

Even though it was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1986, it is currently in poor condition and under continuous threats of invasion by looters and the damaging effects of nature. However, there are several efforts from governmental and civil society groups trying to preserve the archeological site, as well as the history of this culture.

Photo of Chan Chan by Martinoy and used a Creative Commons license.

Photo of Chan Chan by Martinoy and used a Creative Commons license.

The blog Trabajamos por Chan Chan [es] (We Work for Chan Chan) published news about another facet of this preservation work currently being done in Trujillo, near the sands of Huanchaco, and which won an award from the government. This project called “Citizens of Chan Chan” is directed at schoolchildren so that they identify with and participate in the preservation of their historical past:

Frente a la circunstancia de que los monumentos históricos y el patrimonio general se encuentra olvidado y descuidado, es necesario que exista un nuevo tipo de ciudadano que conozca, ame y engrandezca su legado histórico; por esta razón, es que creamos el Programa “Ciudadanos de Chan Chan”, en donde primero se les enseña a conocer y amar el pasado; para luego involucrar a los escolares en los trabajos de conservación; así engrandecen su propia identidad”, señaló Cristóbal Campana, director de los trabajos de conservación del Complejo Arqueológico Chimú y creador de esta experiencia educativa.

Faced with the circumstance that historical monuments and general heritage are being forgotten and neglected, it is necessary that a new kind of citizen exists who knows, loves, and extols their historical legacy; for this reason, we created the Program “Citizens of Chan Chan”, in which they (schoolchilren) are first taught to know and love the past; to later involve schoolchildren in the work of conservation; thereby elevating their own identity”, noted Cristóbal Campana, director of conservation work of the Chimú Archeological Complex and creator of this educational experience.

Some of these preservation works have resulted in new findings, such as the ones described by the blog Trabajamos por Chan Chan [es] regarding the discovery of “small wooden statuettes and bone remains (that) form part of the ritualistic world of the Chimú.”

These efforts of preservation are needed because of the effects caused by climate change, erosion caused by heavy rains during natural phenomena like El Niño. However, it is also human that have caused adverse effects on the archaeological site as described by the blog …en Perú:

Repeated illegal land invasions by locals one of the principle problems for the ancient site … The INC, charged with protected the so-called “intangible” archaeological area, states that some 263 people claim to be land owners there. Each of these people has been ordered to move, but until now, none have. Instead they fence off and work the land, demanding that the government issue them with titles.

However, it is the work from a local group of housewives that have attracted a lot of attention. As reported by the Peruvian newspaper El Comercio [es], a group of women from the neighborhood of Villa del Mar have been working in the city of Chan Chan since 2006. “They perform the same work men, carrying adobe mud-bricks, climbing ladders up to eight meters high, moving wheelbarrows from one side to another, from top to bottom. All with the aim of restoring all that time and humans have damaged.”

These women have also appeared in blogs, such as the Trujillo blog Especiales en Intermedia [es], whose author Róger Montealegre writes about these conservationists from “a world of mud”:

En el monumento de barro, capital de la civilización Chimú, hoy Patrimonio Mundial de la Humanidad, existen alrededor de sesenta mujeres, antes dedicadas a los quehaceres del hogar, ahora convertidas en potenciales conservadoras, especialistas en monumentos de tierra. Trabajando a la par con sus compañeros. ¿Sexo débil? Ni que hablar. Basta contemplar sólo unos minutos su trabajo “en la tierra, en el cielo o en el agua” para darnos cuenta de su fortaleza; su empeño es el mismo en cualquier espacio, no pierden su feminidad, por el contrario incrementan su maternidad. Un periodista le pregunta a una mujer que trabaja en la conservación de Chan Chan qué siente por el monumento, ella responde: “Lo quiero como a mi marido porque me da de comer. Y como a mi hijo, porque lo ayudo a crecer”.

In the monument of mud-brick, capital of the Chimú civilization, and which is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site of Humanity, there are about sixty women, who previously were engaged in household chores, are now converted into potential conservationists, specialists in earth monuments. Working alongside their [male] partners. The Weaker Sex? No way. Just a few minutes observing their work “in the earth, in the air, or in the water” is sufficient enough to realize their strength; their determination is the same in any environment, they do not lose their femininity, but rather they increase their maternal nature. A journalist asks one of the women working on the conservation of Chan Chan what she feels about the monument, she responds: “I love it like I love my husband because it gives me sustenance. And I love it as I do my son, because I help it to grow.”

There are also other efforts from governmental agencies, such as the Implementation Unit 110 from the Chan Chan Archeological Complex [es], which is working on different projects in Trujillo. Their website provides more information about this work. The field of academics is also contributing to this preservation work, as shown by the site Universia Perú [es], which published news about a photographic exhibit co-hosted in 2008 by the Department of Communication Science from the Northern Private University (UPN for its initials in Spanish) and Implementation Unit 100. The exhibition was titled, “Me Llamo Trujillo, Me Apellido Chan Chan.” (My First Name is Trujillo, My Surname is Chan Chan.)

Translation by Hope Woodward.


Join the conversation

Authors, please log in »


  • All comments are reviewed by a moderator. Do not submit your comment more than once or it may be identified as spam.
  • Please treat others with respect. Comments containing hate speech, obscenity, and personal attacks will not be approved.