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2011 | 2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006 | 2005 | 2004

Field Season 2011:    

The short 2011 season at Project El Purgatorio was spent primarily in the lab conducting further analysis, although we did spend a day correcting map data and checking on the site’s preservation status and the encroachment of agricultural fields onto the site. Fortunately there did not seem to be further damage at that time. Most of the time in lab was spent continuing our Portable X-ray Fluorescence (PXRF) analysis of the ceramics and a number of soil samples collected from areas near El Purgatorio as possible clay sources for local production of pottery. The post-processing of these readings and comparison to potential source material is ongoing. Numerous photographs were also taken with the intent of producing 3D photoscans of nearly all the whole vessels, and the rim analysis for the ceramics was finished. This season was also a good opportunity to answer a few minor questions that arose as we began pulling all the datasets together into a master GIS database. When finished, this database will allow for comprehensive spatial analysis of our data from a single platform.

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Field Season 2010:     
   The 2010 season at El Purgatorio proved to be especially productive and informative. Work continued simultaneously in all three sectors of the site. In Sector A, investigation of the monumental architecture continued with the excavation of two test units in the ceramic workshop (AAS3 patio), plus the cleaning of the interior walls of the structure associated with this workshop (AAS3). We also returned to complete the excavation of the top tier of Compound A1’s Platform 2b/c, part of the second best preserved plaza/platform complex at the site. These excavations produced interesting and unexpected results—the entire upper tier is lined with niches similar to those found along the front façade of the platform as well as on the east plaza wall. In addition, units were excavated in another platform/plaza complex of Compound A1, Platform 6/Plaza 1, the largest plaza at the site. Investigation of Casma mortuary practices continued in the Sector C cemeteries, with one large unit excavated in Cemetery 1 and two units excavated in Cemetery 2B (see below for more details).

      In Sector C Cemetery 2B, the first unit (#3) was excavated in order to clean out two stone lined burial pits. These tombs had already been looted, perhaps quite long ago, but we did find scattered remains of human bone and ceramics that date stylistically to the late Middle Horizon period and were of medium quality. The second unit (#4) contained another stone-lined pit that we hoped might not have been completely looted, but unfortunately it yielded fewer remains than the previous unit. However, we now have a clearer picture of this type of tomb construction, which is only one of the three types so far documented at the site.

      In Sector C, Cemetery 1, one large unit (#9) was placed directly adjacent to unit 6 from the 2008 season, in the hopes of having similarly intact burials. Unfortunately the upper levels of this unit had been badly churned up by looters, who caused a great deal of damage. Although we did find the remains of at least 11 individuals, only two were intact. Most of these burials were so disturbed that the only cultural materials associated with them were spindle whorls, however one of the intact burials contained a bowl, a jar and an olla, all in the Casma style.

      For the first time, test units were excavated in the architecture of Sector C, three on the south end and two on the north end. These units were extremely important for understanding the style and construction techniques in this area, but also for acquiring material for AMS dating. Although we are still waiting on the results of these dates, we were surprised to find artifactual and architectural evidence to suggest that this Sector may have been occupied simultaneously with Sectors A and B—Dr. Vogel had hypothesized that it might be earlier. Hopefully the results of the AMS dating will clarify this interpretation. One of the units (C4R29U1) contained evidence of food preparation on a communal scale, with five large grinding stones lined up along the front wall. Another unit (CAS5R18U1) contained two lined storage pits below the floor, with
some evidence for food storage. Still another unit (C5R9U1) showed evidence for bead making. So we were successful in finding evidence of productive activities in Sector C.

      In Sector A we excavated two units in the patio of AAS3, a ceramic workshop area.
While we found molds, unfired clay, various tools for making ceramics and abundant ash, we did not find well-defined firing pits as Dr. Vogel was hoping. We also cleaned the structure AAS3 itself, which turned out to have a blocked doorways and 2 rooms, one with a large U-shaped bench. This structure was left surprisingly clean, and had been deliberately closed, so we suspect it was more of an administrative structure (rather than a storage structure) for the workshop.

      We also cleaned along the east wall of Compound A1, Plaza 1, and along the front façade of its associated Platform, 6a, to search for the decorative friezes documented by Thompson in the 1950s. Unfortunately both of these trenches revealed a great deal of flood and earthquake damage and only minimal evidence of the yellow-painted friezes he had seen.

      Finally, we returned to finish excavating the top tier of Compound A1, Platform 2b/c. As mentioned above, we were interested to find the upper tier lined with niches of similar size to those found along the front façade the year before. We also found a 3m long piece of huayaquil (similar to bamboo) and a bowl covered in cinnabar.

      Continuing his doctoral dissertation research, David Pacifico conducted excavations,
systematic collection of surface ceramics, and detailed mapping of surface architecture in Sector B, partially funded by an NSF doctoral dissertation improvement grant. Twenty-two excavation units of 2x2 or 2x3m were completed in several structures representing six different architectural types (defined and identified in previous field seasons) in Sector B in order to examine the similarities and differences between the activities that took place and residents that lived in these structures. Surface collections expanded the archaeological sampling area by about 500m2. Four structures totaling approximately three hectares were added to the site map begun in 2004.

      Preliminary findings confirmed the hypothesis that Sector B was largely residential in
function. Ceramic artifacts indicated that activities including cooking, storage, and food serving occurred in the study area. Organic artifacts indicate the kinds of foods people ate, including a large quantity of marine shells. Stone artifacts including immovable grinding stones indicate that food processing was an important part of residential life at El Purgatorio. The analytical results of this research are preliminary at this time, as data processing and structuring are ongoing. Exploratory and statistical data analyses await completion of a digital database containing an entry for each artifact collected by this research project.

      In addition to the archaeological objectives, we continued the Public Interest component of our project by hiring and training field assistants from the local area, giving tours to schoolchildren and adults, and giving a formal presentation at the Municipal building in the nearby town of Casma. Dr. Vogel and David Pacifico also collaborated on a summary of the research at El Purgatorio for “Proyecto Historia de Casma,” run by a consortium of local high school teachers, whose goal is to create curricular materials on local history and culture for free distribution to high schools in Casma. Before leaving Peru David conducted an English lesson with the elementary school in Casma called ‘Our Village in English” where he, the students, and their teachers toured the village identifying common objects, and naming them in English. David photographed a student holding a placard with each object’s name in English next to it, had the photos developed in 20x30cm, and then presented them to the school as a lasting record of the lesson.

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Field Season 2009:
   The 2009 season at El Purgatorio in the Casma Valley of Peru was a resounding success. Work continued simultaneously in all three sectors of the site. In Sector A, investigation of the monumental architecture continued with the excavation of six trenches along the walls of Compound A1’s Room 21 and Platform 2, the second best preserved plaza/platform complex at the site. These excavations produced both expected and unexpected results—the niches along one plaza wall that were glimpsed prior to excavation were also replicated on the platform walls, in columns. In addition, five units were excavated in Compound A6, where we found two late intrusive burials, one of which was the mummy of a young girl (see description below). As part of his doctoral dissertation research, David Pacifico continued mapping and surface collection in Sector B, in preparation for test excavations in 2010. Investigation of Casma mortuary practices continued in the Sector C cemeteries, with two large units excavated in Cemetery 1 (see below for more details).


      In addition to the archaeological objectives, we continued the Public Interest component of our project by hiring and training field assistants from the local area, giving tours to schoolchildren and adults, and giving a formal presentation at the Municipal building in the nearby town of Casma. In addition, David Pacifico, a graduate student, continued to offer English classes on Saturdays to any residents of Pueblo Moxeque who wished to come.

     The first unit (#7) in Cemetery 1 was deliberately located to uncover a second shaft tomb with its adobe cap still intact that had been glimpsed in the wall of unit 6 in 2008. This tomb contained an infant in a seated, flexed position with two whole vessels. In addition, this unit yielded a second burial of an adult that extended under the south wall. Therefore a second unit (CCM1U8) was excavated next to the first, in order to recover the rest of the second burial, which was found to be slightly disturbed. In this unit we also found another shaft burial of an adult under an adobe cap, as well as three burials of children. Each of these burials contained at least one ceramic vessel, greatly contributing to our knowledge of Casma ceramic styles. It remains difficult to excavate in these cemeteries because the deep, loose, sandy soil tends to collapse once we reach below a depth of 1m, which is necessary to get beyond the looted zone. But we are learning volumes about Casma mortuary practices.

     In Compound A6, a trench (A6R56TH1) meant only to clean the wall of Platform 2 revealed an intrusive burial of a mummified toddler, who was buried with six ceramic vessels and dated stylistically to the Late Horizon. This is our first evidence of any Late Horizon occupation anywhere near the site of El Purgatorio. A unit was placed in the center of the platform as well, to determine the nature of its construction. An earlier yellow painted wall was found at a depth of 2.57m below datum. In another unit (A6R48U1) an earlier wall was also discovered, showing at least two phases of occupation in that location. Similarly, a third unit (A6R13U1) contained evidence for at least three phases of construction, and was located in a room used for food preparation. A hearth and a large storage vessel as well as abundant organic remains were found in this room, as well as a looted intrusive burial. The adjacent room (A6R68U1) also contained several large storage vessels associated with food production and storage, as well as evidence for at least three phases of construction.

     The niches found on the walls of Compound A1, Room 21 were not a surprise. These niches were already peeking out from under the wall fall and had been documented in the 2006 field season. The west and north walls of Room 21 were not decorated. However, we did not realize (and were surprised to find) that the facing walls of Platform 2 also contained niches of the same size, but in columns of 3, stacked on top of each other. In addition, an adobe staircase stretched from the floor of Room 21 up the east end of Platform 2’s north face. This is particularly odd because during this time period most platforms were equipped with ramps rather than staircases. No friezes were found in this platform/plaza complex, and only scant remains of a grayish paint remained high on one portion of Platform 2’s north wall. Unfortunately the uppermost level of Platform 2 remains to be excavated, as we ran out of time at the end of the season. We hope to return to this area next season.

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Field Season 2008:
   
The 2008 season at El Purgatorio in the Casma Valley of Peru included more fantastic, significant finds. Mapping and surface survey of Sector B began in earnest, in preparation for upcoming surface collection and test excavations. This work will be completed by David Pacifico for his doctoral dissertation research. Investigation of Casma mortuary practices continued in the Sector C cemeteries, with three units excavated in Cemetery 1, one unit in Cemetery 2A, and two units in Cemetery 2B (see below for more details). In Sector A, investigation of the monumental architecture continued with the excavation of seven trenches along the walls of Compound A1’s Plaza 2 and Platform 7, the best preserved plaza/platform complex at the site. These excavations took longer than expected for a wonderful reason—the discovery of painted friezes on the facades of nearly every wall uncovered. We also excavated one unit in the center of the top level of Platform 7.

        Although no intact burials were found in Cemetery 2B, we did find the remains of a stone-lined burial pit, the first example of this type of burial at El Purgatorio. The unit in Cemetery 2A yielded two nearly intact burials, the first to be found in Cemetery 2 at all. However, both individuals were missing some bones and did not have associated grave goods, which may be due to looters. The first unit in Cemetery 1 yielded only disarticulated bones and broken pottery, again as the result of much looting activity. However in the second unit (CCM1U5) we found a tightly flexed burial immediately adjacent to a very large rock, but no apparent grave goods. Finally, the third unit (CCM1U6) contained a very important find—a shaft grave with the adobe cap still intact. The grave goods and human remains were also still in situ, but the bones were badly deteriorated, perhaps from fluctuating levels of the water table. Two other intact burials were found in this unit, along with the only whole ceramic vessels found this season. It remains difficult to excavate in these cemeteries because the deep, loose, sandy soil tends to collapse once we reach below a depth of 1m, which is necessary to get beyond the looted zone. But we are learning volumes about Casma mortuary practices.

        The friezes found on the walls of Compound A1, Plaza 2 were not a surprise. The previous season’s trenches had revealed rows of niches painted yellow on all four sides of the plaza, in various stages of disrepair. However, we did not begin excavating the facing walls of Platform 7 until 2008, and were surprised to find that they were all decorated with various designs in relief. Interestingly, the walls are only one adobe thick and our final unit, excavated in the top of the platform, revealed that the internal structure of the platform was pure fill, composed of dirt, rock, and layers of organic material including reeds, hay, maize stalks, etc. This lack of solid construction raises concerns for the future preservation of the structure. In addition to the archaeological objectives, we continued the Public Interest component of our project by hiring and training field assistants from the local area, giving tours to schoolchildren and adults, and presenting the local school with the first archaeology lesson plan in a series that was developed by an undergraduate team member, Lauren Coppotelli. In addition, David Pacifico, a graduate student, voluntarily taught several English classes on Saturdays to any residents of Pueblo Moxeque and El Purgatorio who wished to come. 

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Field Season 2007:
   
The 2007 field season at Project El Purgatorio exceeded expectations in recovering data on Casma mortuary practices. The seven intact burials we recovered from Cemeteries CCM1 and CCM2 provided excellent new data, and an unprecedented view into this culture. Although our sample is still small, we are now able to form hypotheses that will be investigated in future seasons. Significantly, ceramics recovered from these burials clearly incorporate stylistic influences from various Middle Horizon cultures including Wari polychrome felines, Pachacamac griffins, and Red/white/black painted wares, as well as Casma Incised and Molded vessels. This discovery points to a high degree of cultural interaction and trade, while serving as a chronological marker for the late Middle Horizon (ca. AD800-1000). We initiated excavations in Compound A1 Plaza 2, with exciting results that provoke the need for further investigation. In the four small trenches we excavated (one in each side of the walled plaza), we found a low wall with a double row of small niches painted yellow beneath a 2m deep sloping fill of rocks and plant stalks, and topped by remnants of another row of small niches. This pattern appears to be unique to Casma architectural style.

      In addition, the majority of the structures in Sector C were mapped, as was the interior of Compound A6 and all features found in the excavation units. As a continuation of the public interest component of the project, we hired local townspeople as workers, kept them updated on our progress, and gave presentations to schoolchildren. We also facilitated meetings between the townspeople and the local Institute of Culture official, in an attempt to address concerns regarding the lack of titles for some homes and the desire for running water. Many thanks to Clemson University for supporting this season at El Purgatorio.

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Field Season 2006:
   
Thanks to the generous support of Ron Steensland and Clemson University, Project El Purgatorio completed a successful (if brief) second season this summer. El Purgatorio is the proposed capital city of the Casma culture, located on the north coast of Peru. Test excavations were conduced in two of the compounds in Sector A, where the majority of monumental architecture is located. We were delighted to find an even higher degree of preservation than expected, including such finds as embroidered cloth, fishing nets, woven mats, packets of human hair, and an abundance of seeds and dried fruit.

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Field Season 2005:
   
Due to changes Peruvian law and regulations the 2005 field season was postponed until 2006.


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Field Season 2004:
   
The 2004 field season consisted of an intial investigation of the site of El Purgatorio as well as the establishment of community contacts in the village of Moxeke. Survey, mapping and surface collections were conducted. For more information please see the 2004 Informe. Thanks to the Brennan Foundation for their generous support.

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  • Director
    Dr. Melissa Vogel
    Department of Anthropology and Sociology
    Clemson University, South Carolina USA
  • Peruvian Co-Director(s):
    Victor Falcon Huayta
    Percy Vilcherrez Mendoza
    Sofia Linares
    Alvarado

"Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation."

Site maintenence by John Powell.