Peru is rapidly becoming the capital of the pyramid world. Not only does it have the oldest officially recorded pyramid in the world (Caral), with each archaeologist’s spade dig, more pyramid complexes are uncovered.
Purgatorio (purgatory) is the name by which local people refer to the dozens of prehispanic pyramids, enclosures and mounds found on the plain around La Raya Mountain, south of the La Leche River. The Lambayeque Valley boats scores natural and man-made waterways. lt is also a region of numerous pyramids.
It has no less than three pyramid cities, which together have a stunning total of 250 pyramids. The three cities were built in succession of each other, each abandoned before a new one was built.
The first is known as Pampa Grande and was built between 600 and 750 AD. In 700 AD, the pyramid of Pampa Grande, known as Huaca Fortaleza, was built, reaching fifty metres high, and measuring 200 metres in width. Though much of the structure remains intact, visually, it is not all that impressive. The next complex was that of Batan Grande, built between 750 and 1100 AD. The city had 34 pyramids, including the Huaca de Oro (Pyramid of Gold), in front of which a series of royal tombs were located. The pyramids are now badly eroded, due to El Niño rains in 1982 and 1998. But the biggest destruction to the site was man-made when in ca. 1100 AD, the pyramid was burnt and the town abandoned, to be succeeded by Tucume, from 1100 AD until 1500 AD.
The site of Tucume, covering an area of over 540 acres and encompassing 26 major pyramids and platforms, is part of the Lambayeque Valley, the largest valley of the North Coast of Peru. The local shamans still invoke its power and of the gods that once resided in these structures. Specifically, the gods lived in the mountains, but the pyramids were seen as replica mountains, in the hope of being able to work with the forces of nature. The local shamans are also the record keepers of the legends, including one legend recorded by Father Cabello de Balboa in 1586 AD. It relates how Cala, a grandson of Naymlap, the founder of the Lambayeque royal dynasty, declared that Tucume would become the new metropolis for his people. Cala seems to have been an exile from Batan Grande.
Tucume lies on what was once the southern margin of the valley, but thanks to the Taymi irrigation canal (over 43 miles long), which brings water northward from the Chancay river, it is surrounded by fertile agricultural land. lt seems very likely that the construction of the Taymi canal coincided with the foundation of Tucume, an important center of the region throughout its 400-year history. Modern Tucume, which lies very close to the site and boasts its own prehispanic village pyramid, Huaca del Pueblo, is located 17 miles north of the city of Chiclayo.
The largest and most impressive pyramids are found in the monumental sector of the archaeological site, to the north and northeast of La Raya Mountain (“Mountain of the Ray”). Investigations carried out in conjunction with Thor Heyerdahl, the famous Norwegian seafarer and explorer, have concentrated on three major structures: Huaca Larga, Huaca 1 and The U-shaped "Temple of the Sacred Stone". Excavations in non-monumental areas have yielded many details about the functioning of the site -some prefer the term city- and about the lives of its inhabitants.
The "Temple of the Sacred Stone" is a small, unpretentious, rectangular U-shaped structure to the east of Huaca Larga. lt is considered a major temple that travelers had to pass by before entering the site. The walled roadway system of this section of the Lambayeque valley leads straight to this temple and then on to Huaca Larga.
The special, revered object of this temple appears to have been a large, upright boulder in the middle of the one-room building, but whom or what it represented remains unknown. Furthermore, archaeologists found an enormous number of offerings in and around the temple. These offerings included valuable Spondylus shells (a seashell) brought from the coast of Guayaquil, slaughtered lamas and intriguing sheet-metal miniatures representing a wide range of themes and objects (flora, fauna, ornaments, musical instruments, tools, etc.). The most delicate of Inca offerings, figurines made of solid silver or carved Spondylus and adorned with elaborate textiles, silver tupu-needles and miniature feather headdresses, were found deposited in ritual fashion by the doorway of the temple. Researchers have found similar offerings, sometimes together with human sacrifices, at other major Inca shrines. For example, just a few years back a researcher exploring the top of the snow-capped Ampato Mountain in the southern Peruvian department of Arequipa found the intact mummy of an Inca girl, whom he nicknamed "Juanita".
The Túcume area has been slated for tourism development in Peru, however, concerns have been raised over the development of the site without proper attention to conservation. The site's listing in 2004 attracted substantial private-sector support for the site's preservation, but a long-term plan for the conservation of its fragile and eroding remains has yet to be developed.