Archaeologists in Peru investigate village of “shark hunters”


The mysterious town of Gramalote was undergoing meaningful changes, archaeologists say. Recent excavations have allowed [archaeologists]to find a temple where, 3,500 years ago, the first fishermen of the village of Gramalote, on the sea near Huanchaquito, officiated their mysterious rituals.

It’s a rock structure located in the highest area of the town. There’s a central ceremonial patio, with steps, and what could be a platform. There is still evidence of a fire, possibly one that was left to burn for years.

Private areas were also found in the back of the temple. The interesting thing about these spaces is that they were all connected by a long hallway, and the floor was made of stone.

Until fairly recently, it was believed that these townspeople, who spent their time hunting sharks, walked for hours to get to their temples, in the pyramids that we know as Caballo Muerto and Huaca de los Reyes, in Laredo. However, this find has demonstrated that Gramalote had its own temple, and, perhaps, its own gods.

The center of the plaza was given shade by a roof made from totora reeds held up by posts. The post holes can still be seen. Archaeologists found the bodies of three children in these holes. It is believed that they were sacrificed, a practice seen later in the Huacas del Sol y la Luna, and, centuries later, in Chan Chan.

Is it possible that, three thousand years ago, [Gramalote] already had a sort of governor-priest or another authority in charge of performing rites? And if this person did exist, where did they live? Where are they buried?

Archaeologist Gabriel Prieto has hypothesizes that this society was entering a period of transition. From a civilization in which everyone sustained themselves through fishing to a society in which some members had specialties, like rituals, but without leaving behind the marine activity completely.

“All of the adult men that we have discovered in Gramalote had a type of corn that grows in the ear in order to protect the eardrum. This is seen in men who spend a lot of time submerged in cold water. But some of the people we uncovered in the temple don’t have this feature in their body. We think that Gramalote didn’t have full-time priests, like there were in the Huaca de la Luna centuries later. [Gramalote] was in a process of change,” said Prieto.

Another thing that caught Prieto’s attention was that, in one half of the temple, investigators found male-associated objects, like fishing tools, and, in the other half, female-associated objects, like tools for weaving. “We think that, in this temple, in addition to being the setting for large celebrations, was a place where young people were brought together so they could be taught how to be a productive member of society,” the archaeologist explained.

The gendered objects were found in two sunken chambers at the sides of the ceremonial plaza. It is believed that the young people, men and women, may have taken part in initiation rituals there. However, there is no iconography or further evidence to that effect.



Veronica Gruber