Women at the celebration. (Photo by Zachary J. Christman)
by Jason Yaeger

Before the Dig

There's a lot of preparation before any big project like this can begin. Alexei Vranich and our Bolivian counterparts, José María López Bejarano and Marcelo Maldonado Vargas, spent a full week finalizing the details. They had to get permission to excavate at the site, employ men and women to work with us, remove our equipment from storage, and arrange for our lodging. Then, after the logistics were finished, we sponsored a ceremony before we began excavating.

The ceremony is called a pago (which means "payment" in Spanish), and in it, we make a mesa (table), an offering that we burn for the deities, especially Pachamama (Earth Mother), to ask their permission for our excavations and to solicit good fortune during our research. The mesa contains candies of different sizes and shapes, incense, and other things that Pachamama likes. The amauta or shaman choreographs dozens of participants who together assemble the mesa in a collaborative ritual. After it is complete, the amauta says prayers over the mesa while it is burned on a pile of brush and llama dung, which is doused heavily with offerings of alcohol.

All of the different groups involved in the project participated--the professional archaeologists from the U.S. and Bolivia, the local union of archaeology workers whom we employ, the Tiahuanco mayor's office, and the mallkus, who are the leaders of the rural communities that surround Tiwanaku. The pago brings together everybody from the community who has an interest or stake in the project, and it creates a spirit of cooperation and collaboration, which is very important to the success of our project.

At the end of the ceremony, the amauta declared that the omens were all positive and that we would have a good season. After speeches by local dignitaries and Alexei Vranich, we celebrated the formal beginning of our excavation season.

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