So the past three weeks I have been surveying the Lake Titicaca basin for pukaras (fortified hilltop sites), chulpas (funerary burial towers),  slab-cist tombs, ceramics, lithics, and other ancient artifacts. We divide ourselves into two groups of about five (about three Peruvian workers in each group). We spread ourelves out and scan our designated survey area for any artifacts. The landscape where we´re surveying is nothing short of breathtaking (beautiful views of countryside, soaring mountains, and lakes). Whenever we discover a site, we determine the limits of the site using flags and then outline the site using a very handy Trimble GPS (which surprisingly very easy to use). After the site is defined,we perform systematic surface collection, which entails establishing points within the site that are 50 meters apart. At each point, a 8 meter diameter circle is measured out and flagged. Every ceramic sherd and lithic within this circle is then collected and bagged. The purpose of systematic surface collection is to determine when certain areas of the site were occupied (by analyzing the ceramic sherds and assessing their concentration within these areas, we can gain insight into who occupied that particular part of the site and when they occupied it). When we encounter a feature (such as a tomb) we register its coordinates within the GPS.  My research project will examine the spatial relationships between tomb locations, sites, and fortified walls in an effort to assess whether or not tombs functioned as land/boundary markers. I also hope this spatial data will inform me about the level of social stratification that was present in the area.

So far, we´ve found some pretty impressive artifacts and sites. Beautiful painted and incised pottery, an intact Late Intermediate Period vessel, arrowheads, slingstones, an ancient shovel, and an ancient anchor weight have been found on this survey project. We´ve found at least three pukaras, situated in highly defensive locations on mesas. When I was leading a survey crew on top of one of the mesas, our team discovered a sunken plaza that was encircled by slab-cist tombs (this site will definitely play a major part in my project). Although a couple of the tombs had been robbed, we were able to peer inside and take photos of the tomb interiors (the interior walls were made of stone). We´ve found a few arrowheads (one day I found 4 which was awesomeee). This past week we surveyed and registered a pukara situated on mesa (BEAUTIFUL SCENERY BTW). One of the farmers came up and told our team that there are a few cave tombs below the pukara, with only skulls, NO BODIES. Our team carefully meandered along the cliffside and  found 4 cave tombs situated in the cliffside of the pukara (one of which had rock art!!). In total, we found around eight skulls (one was placed in an adobe niche tomb) and a few other bones.

Even though survey is exhausting, it is extremely rewarding. After three weeks of intensive walking and climbing, I feel back in shape. We earn our meals at the end of the day I guess you can say haha. We stay in a nice house in a small town called Tiquillaca, which is about 40 minutes away from Puno. On the weekends we drive back to Puno and chill (I´ve taken two tours-Sillustani, a gorgeous chulpa site, and the Islas de Uros, the famous reed islands). Once again, this is the most epic trip that I have ever taken!

Well my two weeks in Cuzco have basically been the most incredible two weeks abroad ever (and I´ve done my fair share of traveling). Some highlights:

1. Machu Picchu. Words nor photos cannot describe the beauty of this incredibly well-preserved site. The entire day I spent at Machu Picchu was perhaps one of the greatest days of my life. You know the mountain you see in the background of every Machu Picchu photo? Yeah, I climbed to the top of it and witnessed the most spectacular views I have ever seen. Seeing the mist gradually dissipate and unveil Machu Picchu and its surrounding mountains from the peak of the Wayna Picchu was absolutely breath-taking. I felt as if I was a god among men standing on top of Mount Olympus. The ruins themselves were also marvelous. I spent the rest of my day simply walking from structure to structure and resting every now and then to take in the gorgeous mountain views. Numerous residential structures, royal structures, a central plaza, and a sacred area were a few of the main areas. The site is massive and you definitely need to spend an entire day there.

2. Horseback Riding. Horseback riding on a clear, sunny day from Sacsahuayman to Puka Pukara to Tambomachay to the Temple of the Moon and then Qénko (all Inca ruins) was awesome. As I went from site to site, I saw beautiful views of the Cuzco city area. I passed a few villages that still spoke the ancient Inca language of Quechua. The ruins themselves were also pretty cool to see-Puka Pukara is fortified hilltop fort with wonderful countryside views, Tambomachay is a very well-preserved Inca resting place with windows and stairways, Qénko was the site of Inca animal sacrifice, Sacsayhuaman, the most impressive site, was a religious site for the Incas that is comprised of three levels of walls with perfectly aligned stones.

3. The Pre-Columbian Museum and Inca Museum. The Pre-Columbian museum is probably my favorite musuem in Cuzco because of the beautiful artifacts that are wonderfully displayed. I saw various spondylus shell necklaces, Chimu wooden scultpures, vibrant Nazca, Mochica, and Wari ceramics. I learned a great deal about the material cultures of the Pre-Inca and Inca societies. The Inca museum was also pretty impressive, showcasing Inca aryballos, ceramics, idols, and weapons. The lighting wasn´t very great but the artifacts were still pretty cool to see.

Those are some of the major highlights but I am leaving out quite a bit (the night concerts, the festivals, the various markets, and the multiple people I met.

Currently, I´m in Puno and I have met up with my project team (its a very small team, now its about 6 members but it will soon be nine). Yesterday we checked out the survey area and it is fantastic (there are Late-Intermediate period pukaras, chulpas, and slab-cist tombs everywhere). The main site we are focusing on is Machu Llacta, a well-prserved post-Tiwanaku collapse fortified site.  My indenpedent research project focuses on the chulpas and slab-cist tombs in the area. I hope to analyze them and chart their positions in a GIS (which we have at the project house yeauhhh) in an effort to determine if there are any spatial relationships. My overall goal is to acquire data that will help me assess the social stratification in the area. We commence on Monday. IM STOKEDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDD

–Jacob Bongers

I´m not going to lie, I´m having the time of my life here in Cuzco. Yes, I haven´t started my archaeological work yet (early July-August 15th) but exploring the archaeological capital of South America and meeting AMAZING people along the way has truly been an incredible experience (and it has been only 4 days!!!!)

June 19th 2009-Today was my first eventful day in Cuzco. I took a taxi to the Avenida del Sol and exchanged some US dollars for Sols (the Peruvian currency). There was a massive parade of dancers dressed in brightly colored clothing that passed through the Avenida. After taking a few photos, I stumbled upon the central Plaza de Armas. It was a beautiful sunny day (SoCal weather!) and numerous tourists and police officers were strolling through the square. The views from the square are very nice-you can see the towering mountains and numerous Peruvian neighborhoods in the distance. My goal for the day was to see as many cathedrals as possible and that is precisely what I did.

I went inside the La Compania cathedral first and met a very friendly guide who gave me a tour of the church. The cathedral is very ornate and contains numerous colonial paintings depicting important religious and celestial figures. At the far end of the cathedral is a massive structure made of cedar wood covered in gold leaf. One half of the structure is of the Baroque style while the other half is of the Renaissance style. The tour guide and I spoke about how the Catholicism draws inspiration from other religions (Hinduism and Egyptian religion for example). After the tour, I spoke with the guide for a few minutes about life in the U.S. and breakdancing (which I find hilarious).

I then walked around the main Cathedral for a while and saw the famous Last Supper painting with the guinea pigin the middle. Although much grander than the La Compania, the main Cathedral is similarly very ornate and overall very Baroque. Afterwards, I walked through the Hatun Rumiyok and saw the famous the 12-angled Inca stones. The precision used in the stones´ construction is jaw-dropping (you cannot stick a piece of paper through). I then had an Asian tourist take a photo of me and a man dressed in Inca clothing standing beside the 12-angled stones. I then stopped at a restaurant and ate an alpaca sandwich for lunch (absolutely DELICIOUS).

In short, I explored some other cathedrals (San Blas, La Merced, and San Francisco). They are all very similar-intricate colonial facade, baroque interior, and colonial paintings. Walking through Cuzco´s streets is really interesting-there are very narrow streets, street vendors trying to sell you unoriginal tourist objects, numerous Andean women wearing traditional Peruvian clothing and carrying their children in cloth bundels wrapped around their bodies, and colonial buildings are everywhere.

I also saw a parade of very young dancers (5-7 years old) wearing traditional Andean clothing in the main Plaza de Armas in between visiting Cathedrals. The dancers wore a variety of different clothing-I saw feathers, masks, army outfits, and more.

During dinner, I met an awesome tour guide, who arrived at the restaurant with his group of trekkers. I spoke to a couple trekkers from NYC and exchanged stores for a good hour and a half. Overall, it was a very fun-filled day!

Overall, a very fun-filled day!

–Jacob Bongers

June 18th, 2009

I have arrived in beautiful Cuzco, Peru!

The first thing that struck me about Cuzco is its beautiful location-it is nestled high up in the gorgeous Andean mountains. Everywhere I turn, I see the tall, snow-capped cliffs peering down on me. The city itself is also very beautiful, displaying a mixture of Spanish Colonial and Inca architecture. During my drive to I witnessed young students running happily to their classes, street vendors selling their hand-made crafts, and brightly colored buildings. Traffic was pretty bad during the drive but we made it through.

The hotel itself is absolutely perfect for me-It is centrally located (2 minutes walk from the central plaza) has free breakfast, and has very spacious rooms. The hotel representatives are super nice (my spanish isnt as bad as I thought!). I spoke with one of the representatives for around 45 minutes about my trip and she graciously offered her expertise and made excellent suggestions. I took it easy the first day in order to acclimate to the conditions. I rested and drank lots of coca tea in order to prevent altitude sickness from gripping my body. I had a wonderful chorizo sandwich for lunch and delicious hand-made pesto spaghetti for dinner. I will soon post about the EVENTFUL day I had today (June 19th, 2009)!

Hello all!

I’m leaving for Peru on Wednesday, June 17th! I have been never been so excited for a trip! I’m planning on touring Cuzco for about a week (seeing Machu Picchu!!!, the main plaza, the Inca museum, nearby sites, etc.) and then taking a tourist bus down to southern Peru which is where my project is located. If I have time, I hope to see the ancient site of Tiwanaku while I’m in southern Peru. I will be surveying and excavating a hilltop site for about 5 weeks while also working on my second research project which deals with the tombs that are located in the proximity of the site. I will be traveling for about 2 months which is the longest I’ve been away from home. I’m psyched!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

-Jacob Bongers