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Proyecto Cerro La Cruz





     Thanks to National Science Foundation and Clemson University support, Dr. Melissa Vogel, Peruvian archaeologist Percy Vilcherrez and their team are studying the ancient urban environment on the north coast of Peru. The project investigates the sociopolitical changes that accompany the development of cities and the effects of these changes on the urban populace, through an examination of the built environment at a prehistoric Andean city that offers unique insights into the dynamics of urbanization on the north coast of Peru during a critical period of the region’s prehistory. Their research focuses on the site of El Purgatorio, a large urban center and the proposed capital city of the Casma polity. The site appears to have had a long occupation, from at least the Middle Horizon (AD600-1000) through most of the Late Intermediate Period (AD1000-1350).

      Project El Purgatorio has a dual emphasis on archaeology and physical anthropology. The architectural aspect of the study focuses on the functions and meanings of the extensive walled compounds and their internal elements. Excavations will also be conducted in a selected sample of non-compound structures that have been identified as possible commoner residences and workshop areas.  The results of the architectural component are expected to contribute new insights into the processes that shaped Andean cities and their changing forms over time, as well as identify those elements specific to the Casma polity. The bioarchaeological component of the study focuses on human skeletal remains, and will seek evidence for the effects of urbanism on the local populace. Biodistance analysis is utilized to determine the population’s geographic origins and kinship relations, while additional analyses examine their health, nutrition, and disease patterns.

      The questions addressed by this project have substantial implications at multiple levels, from the effects of urbanism on local populations to the enhancement of archaeological models for the development of cities, and the furthering of regional archaeological knowledge in the Andean region of South America. Examining the changing face of urban environments on the north coast of Peru will not only inform our understanding of New World urbanism, but may also provide models for other studies of ancient cities around the world. The implications of this research for the development of anthropological theory and the study of complex societies include further definition of the concepts of urbanism, urbanization, and what constitutes a city. The study of El Purgatorio may provide significant insight into the reasons for and processes of urbanization.

      This project utilizes a Public Interest approach to recover the heritage of Peru’s indigenous people. It provides employment and learning opportunities for local people, offers presentations and site tours to schoolchildren and community members, and contributes to the development of archaeological tourism in the Casma Valley for the benefit of local communities, primarily through the Sechín Museum. In addition, both undergraduates and graduate students receive hands-on training, while the employment of Peruvian archaeologists furthers goals for international cooperation.


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