In 1895–1896, archaeologist Max Uhle obtained one of the Penn Museum’s largest collections from the site of Pachacamac, Peru. This diverse collection contains over 12,000 objects, including many artifacts of fragile organic materials such as gourds, wood, feathers, fibers, skin, remains of food offerings and ritual feasting, and the textile-wrapped mummified bodies of humans and animals preserved in the dry environment of coastal Peru. Pachacamac was the location of the most important sacred center in the Andean region. For more than 1,000 years in late prehistory, native peoples worshipped a central deity here whose presence is still vibrant in myth, oral history, and Peruvian identity. The temples, pyramids, palaces, plazas, and oracle of Pachacamac were the destinations for hundreds of thousands of pilgrims from different societies throughout the Andes. Eventually, the center fell under the control of the Inca Empire who built a large Sun Temple that now dominates the site.
During the past year, Clark Erickson has worked with a number of graduate students, student interns, and volunteers (Michelle Molchan, Jeanette Nicewinter, Carly Lewis, Josh Henkin, and Beth Protolowicz), and visiting scholars to research this vast collection for publication and preparation for a large exhibition on Pachacamac. Anne Tiballi of Binghamton University wrote her dissertation on the objects and human remains from the Sun Temple in collaboration with Janet Monge and Brittney Tatchell. Clark Erickson and Patrick McGovern are collecting samples of residues from pottery and gourd vessels for analysis of beverages, in particular, those that may have medicinal or hallucinogenic properties. In collaboration with Norm Badler of Penn’s Digital Media Design program and SIG Center for Computer Graphics of the School of Engineering and Applied Science, students in the studio-seminar Visualizing the Past/Peopling the Past are exploring virtual reality and 3D modeling of Pachacamac and its objects as exhibition technology for peopling and visualizing the past at Pachacamac. [Photo credits: Clark L. Erickson]