Day 2: tour of Lima and its museums

After meeting our guide and driver, we got into the mini-van and were taken a few blocks from the hotel to a local park right on the coast, with a good view of the ocean. After investigating the statues and art murals on the walls, we got back in the van and wandered around the maze of city streets on the way to the next destination. We spent the day being taken around the city of Lima, visiting the Plaza de Armas (central plaza surrounded by colonial-vintage government buildings and at least one large cathedral) on our way to the main items of interest, the Museo Nacional del la Republica (the main Archeological Museum of Lima), and the famous Gold Museum. The Archeological Museum was one of the few museums that we encountered during our trip that allowed you to take photos or videos inside the museum. I found the concept of "no photos" to be very annoying; at least in Mexico or Egypt they allow photos, even if they charge extra for the priviledge. I could understand a "no flash pictures" policy, or a "no professional photography" (ie. - no tripods, etc.) policy, but not to allow any photos at all is ridiculous. We ran into the "no photos/videos" rule at the Gold Museum, with the explanation being that it was a private collection, and they were worried about someone bringing in a bomb (or something that might damage the artifacts) disguised as a camera. Yeah, whatever.

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An example of fine ceramic work at the Archeology Museum. I believe this is a pot from the Nazca culture.

Anyway, the collection of artifacts at the Archeological Museum was very nice, covering all of the ancient cultures of Peru (Inca, Mochica, Chavin, Nazca, etc.). There were examples of ceramics, textiles, stone statues/stelae/artwork, and even mummies. For me the most interesting displays were the ancient skulls, some of which displayed one of two fascinating oddities: the first were the skulls that were examples of trepanation. These skulls had been operated on during Inca or pre-Inca times, with the scalp peeled back, and a silver dollar-sized hole cut through the skull towards the brain. It is not known what else was done at that point, whether it was brain surgery, or perhaps just having the hole might have been enough to release the pressure on the brain (release the demons?). In any case, some of these drastic surgeries were at least partially successful, as you could see that on some skulls the hole had started to heal over, showing that the patient had survived the operation.

The second type of interesting skull were the ones that were malformed, appearing like "coneheads". Many of these skulls were deformed as a result of binding the skull (with boards and bindings) when the child was young, forcing the skull to grow backward to a point, like a conehead. It is believed that this process was reserved for the nobility or priests. I believe that it was done to imitate a revered group of leaders that had existed in earlier times, a group whose skulls were naturally larger and shaped in this odd manner. This different race of men had larger brain capacities, and perhaps an above-average wisdom to lead as well. I have a seperate webpage on this topic, located HERE.

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Examples of mal-formed skulls in a glass display case.
(This photo was actually taken at the Ica Museum, but both museums had such displays.)

There was a small gift shop at the end of the museum, and I saw a replica version of a Mochica pot shaped like a human head for sale. It was similar to many that we had seen inside the museum, and was reasonably priced at only $15. I debated purchasing it, then decided against it, since I didn't want to have to drag a fragile object around for the next two weeks prior to heading home. So I put it off, knowing that we would never be back here, but assuming that I could purchase a similar item elsewhere on our trip. I was wrong, as I never saw a similar pot of comparable quality anywhere else on our trip. This reminds me of the replicas for sale at the finer anthropology museums in Mexico - it seemed like the best examples were in the museum gift shops, and not in any other kind of store or vendor elsewhere in the country. Oh well, I ended up with plenty of souveniers anyway, so I can live with the lost opportunity.

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Pots in the shape of human heads, all with remarkably lifelike facial features. They all have hollow circular handles with a single spout. These examples are from the Mochica culture.

The next stop was the Gold Museum, a privately-owned museum that has the largest collection of gold artifacts from the Inca and pre-Inca time periods. These pieces of gold are very rare, as most of the Inca gold was taken by the Spaniards and melted down prior to being sent back to Spain. We only had about an hour to spend in the museum, which was just enough to get an overview of the bottom floor. (We never even got to the second floor exhibits.) Our guide said that most people either spend an entire day there looking at everything, or they spend an hour there (after an hour you are so overwhelmed that it is hard to take in any more). There are plenty of fantastic artworks to see (gold and otherwise), but some of the ones that stand out in my memory were the Mochica potteries displaying a vast variety of sexual scenes (not painted on the pot, but appearing as a sculpture on the top of the ceramic vessel). Our guide explained that fertility was very important to the Mochica, who needed a high birth rate to keep their culture thriving. Personally I think that they just enjoyed all forms of sexual expression.
Click HERE to see some examples of erotic Mochica ceramics (adults only, please).

We completed our visit to the gold museum, and then spent a half hour rumaging through the 6-8 shops in the nearby courtyard, all of which were selling a variety of items geared toward tourists. I bought a t-shirt, a miniature Nazca-style pot, some books, and a CD-ROM covering Machu Picchu and other Inca topics.

We returned to the hotel by dinner time, and decided to walk out into the town to find a restaurant that our guide had recommended. We debated walking on the city streets after dark, but thought that it was only a few blocks away, and it wasn't too late yet (there were still plenty of people on the streets). We found the restaurant, which specialized in BBQ meals. We both got the beef ribs, and even though it seemed to take forever to get our food, when it came there was more than the two of us could eat (not that I didn't give it a good try....). Then it was back to the hotel, where we checked out the small gift shop, which was stocked with items from local indian artisans. I bought a tiny 4" llama (made with real llama hair), and Sue got some locally woven placemats/napkins/coasters. We saw the same sort of items for sale throughout our trip, but never again saw the same high quality that we saw that night, so we were glad we made our purchases when we did.