Alvaro Higueras—James B. Richardson and Peruvian archaeology: Five Decades of a Diverse and Rich Relationship

I wish to give a brief account of the forty years of research James B. Richardson has made in Peru and his contributions to the archaeology of the Central Andes. The papers that follow will then illustrate the many archaeologies that his scholarship has influenced in many regions of the world thanks to indebted students like me. The details that I present are from personal experience, Jim’s accounts, and one article that Jim has written on his long-standing friendship with Mike Moseley. All errors of facts are of course mine.

My admiration for Jim Richardson as a mentor lies with his unconditional support for the endeavors that may spring from a life in anthropology and archaeology. The profound human & cultural awareness of these fields leads to diverse choices in a professional life, engendered by an interest in exploring diverse realities and various subjects related to cultural affairs. That is exactly our case, which includes Ana, whom Jim prefers, with her forays into forensics- of a very unorthodox journey up to today. This is, I believe, a facet of his enthusiasm for research in every shape and form.

I first came to experience Jim’s archeological work in the classroom at the Universidad Católica and at the lab of the Museo Nacional. We often read about our mentors and their work well before we meet them in our professional life. Only later, we become their students and often their friends. Jim has become an influential mentor and a warm friend.

Figure 1. Jim's research areas in the Central Andes

I became familiar with Jim’s research in the storage rooms of the National Museum. Under the guidance of Peter Kaulicke we learned the skills of drawing stone artifacts using the large axes Jim had collected in his early seasons in Piura. At the same time, the late professor Mercedes Cárdenas described enthusiastically Jim’s work. Cárdenas underlined the interdisciplinary character of Jim’s research: the occupation of hunter-gatherer and fishing populations on currently desert areas of the coast, his research on beach-ridges and his ideas of drastic changes in the ecosystem of the region. Jim’s data, she hinted, was leading to a better grasp at the interaction that ecology and settlement patterns had in times when populations were still highly mobile, and how archaic landscapes were a relevant issue on the coastal areas. I had a first hand experience on his written work when by return post to my letter came a huge pack filled with reprints of his papers, which made at the time more than half of my archaeology library. What surprised me then was observing the extent of his research which included the late periods of the Piura region, which he contributed to Moseley’s and MacKey’s yellow book on the Chimú, his insistence of the importance of the Piura and Tumbes coast for the Chimú’s system and his suggestion of a long perspective to include early colonial history. The conducting argument was indeed the evolution of human settlements and maritime settings.

Figure 2. Jim's lineage: JBR I, JBR II and JBR III

The birth of Jim the archaeologist

When did Jim discover his passion for the past? Did he discover it alone? Who was his accomplice in this enterprise? Jim’s passion was probably born early in life: intense travel in the Northeast of the United States, the complicity of his mother in his interests, their travels together in his mother’s genealogy quests, and the long summers in Martha’s Vineyard volunteering in cultural activities, an island with which he still maintains a solid and loyal relationship. So from early on, in pre-college years, we see Jim in close contact with evidence of past societies of the Northeast US. Such an early commitment to the discipline that would guide his life is most unusual.

Figure 3. The Chira beach ridges

Breaking new ground
The mid-sixties were essential for Jim’s lifetime research culminating his doctorate years at Illinois. He prepared his research by following a trail of interests based on his previous work and graduate studies at Urbana that included geography, geology and the phenomenon of beach ridges from his experience on the US Northeast coast shores and islands. Unlike many of us, Jim did not follow the interests of his eminent advisor Donald Lathrap at Illinois and rather broke new ground with his research, moving away from the lowlands orientation of his advisor. Counting on his acquired good background in geology and earlier first hand experience, he aimed at studying the early occupation of the Talara region in Piura. Jim became concerned in his graduate years in a site named El Estero in Piura. Indeed, it was the only site on the coast allowed to work on. He narrates: “Lathrap wanted me to work in the Peruvian Amazon, but I [favored] work on the coast since I had become interested in maritime adaptations through my Martha’s Vineyard work in the 60’s with Ritchie and by Lanning’s work around Ancon. Lathrap said no, but soon agreed, [on the condition] you go to the Talara region and find the El Estero site. This site had T-shaped stone axes that Lathrap felt was evidence of migration of peoples from the Peruvian Amazon to the coast.”

Figure 4. The Talara Tar Pits

Geologists of the International Petroleum Company who ran the Talara oil fields knew the site. Jim corresponded with its discoverer, Charles Barrington Brown, and was able to read all his unpublished data. Jim made then his first reconnaissance trip to the region, guided by George Dentition, and with Donald Lathrap and Bill Allen in tow. How much of his advisor’s diffusionist interests were part of his thesis? Perhaps not much… His main concern was not only early human occupation but also geological dynamics of beach ridges. Jim was up to date then on the issues of beach ridges and Holocene sea level rise, thanks to his courses with Charles Alexander, who had worked in Africa and the Caribbean. However, he says, “only a few years later I also realized that the northwest Peru beach ridges (Tumbes, Chira, Colan and Piura sets) may have been created as the result of mega-Niños, since all had 8-9 ridges.”
His observations and detailed knowledge of the geology of the region were essential to his future interests. Jim later located the site of Siches and recovered a collection of shells and artifacts from the surface. He sent the shells to Axel Olsen (a former IPC exploration geologist and then the world’s authority on Pacific mollusks). He identified the mangrove species at Siches and argued that Indians who carried them from Tumbes, the southern most extent of mangrove coastal forests, must have created the middens. Jim, who had seen the site with an extremely high density of shells, started then studying the region with a strong belief of radical settlement changes through time in the region. “So began -he says-, with the beach ridges and “out-of-place” shells, my life-long focus on climate change and origins of El Niño.”

The boy of Talara returns
The period from 1972 to 1976, Jim was concentrated in his survey of the Talara region and lower Chira Valley. He continued his research of human occupation helped by an NSF grant to dig at Siches, accompanied by two graduate students. Allison Heaps and Mark McConaughy conducted a survey of the Paita Peninsula. Mark went on to have his dissertation fieldwork studying lithics in a Jordanian Bronze Age archaeological site. In the first year of 1972 Judy, James and Heather were staying with him housed by the Belco Petroleum Co. in Negritos. The IPC Talara fields had been nationalized in 1969.

Jim in the land of Vicús
At the end of the seventies, Jim briefly concentrated his efforts in the survey of Vicús-Piura region helped by his students Decima, Allison and Mark. In the Upper Piura valley Jim is not aiming at the well known but poorly studied (that is to say, heavily looted) Vicús burials. Rather, Jim’s and his students’ interests move towards later period societies in the region of Chulucanas. In the back of his mind the first Spanish settlement on the coast: not Piura La Vieja, but that shabby settlement that founded on the Tumbes coast. Granted, it probably looked more like a military encampment, which was soon replaced as the main site by the Piura La Vieja site in better climate setting, and not to far from Chulucanas.
The friendship of Mike Moseley
In the first decade of his research in Peru, Jim struck a solid friendship with Mike Moseley. The friendship was founded on their common interest on El Niño and tectonics and impact, on the Chimú irrigation and politics (as Mike was starting the Chan Chan adventure), but also on their enjoyment of doing field archaeology and sharing it with colleagues during hot days in the desert and long evenings in local water holes. They were both interested in each other’s projects, which would lead to important collaborations: Jim recalls, “Both us were moving in the same arena of climate impact and natural catastrophes impact – the only two at that time in the Andes doing this.”

Figure 5. 1970. Jim and Mike stroll in the Moche desert.

In the Santa Valley, I think, came the start of (another) long friendship
Dan, volunteering for Mike, started the Santa beach ridge studies in 1980. Jim was in Peru with Bud Rollins and Jack Donahue, Pitt geologists, for a “quick and dirty” research trip to look at Holocene beach ridges and tectonic features from the Moche valley to Talara. In Huanchaco Jim meets Dan. In the Santa beach ridges Dan, who took Jim and Bud to the sites, had found late Preceramic sites on the paleo-shoreline with “funny” shells, as Jim recalls: “it was the case of warm water shellfish and fish in a coldwater coast, a situation Jim had found in Piura very early in this research.” This data supported the idea of the change in the Peruvian current from warm to cold and was published in 1986 in Geoarchaeology as the first of a series of articles on the evolution of El Niño. Jim recalls that geologists and oceanographers were not very welcoming to their new ideas, although one wonders why since Jim, Jack, Dan and Bud had more that 20 years of data and observations of archaeological data.

Figure 6. Jim, Dan and the captain at the beach in Punta Sal.

Jim in a Tolkienesque mood
In 1983, Mike asked Jim to get to Ilo to dig the Ring site –at the very onset of the Contisuyu program. Jim became a board member of the project, but remarks he had no involvement with convincing Southern Peru to support the logistics of the archaeological projects. “All the perks, including the bar, were already set in beautiful downtown Ilo!” he says.

Figure 7. Jim, the Toyota and the pit

The digs in 1983, 85 and 87 included Dan who was pursuing his interest in seashells. Thus was born ?"The Fellowship of the Ring". While Jim and Dan headed the excavations at the Ring site, Mike and Jack Donahue, once again in Peru, were working on the spring fed irrigation systems and tectonic impact as well as on the geology along the Pleistocene raised marine terrace on which the Ring dwellers settled. (SLIDE 9, more hard work) It turned out to be really a “fellowship of the early sites” since the Ring site proved only the first in a streak of very early settlements on the Far South coast of Peru. The Ring site was the earliest fishing village in the Americas at 10.750 BP, for a while. Later, in the same neighborhood, Quebrada Tachuay dug by Susan deFrance and Mike (Jim did the lithic analysis) supported the Ring site early date (at 11,000 BP) and at same time Dan working at Quebrada Jaguay north in Camaná produced dates at around 11,200 BP. This was in itself a remarkable advance in the study of early populations along the coast. These finds are very exciting for researchers but less attractive for the public. We now know the kind of press generated by ancient people with a roughly similar diet albeit building pyramids and large settlements 5000 years late

Figures 8 & 9. Jim works intensely at the Ring site

Squeezing the Ketchup for the Benefit of Colorful Fellows
In 1986, Jim and Dick Drennan put their diplomatic and persuasive skills at work to set up a program that is now a bit over 20 years old: the University of Pittsburgh & Howard Heinz Endowment for Latin American Archaeology. It first benefited students Latin American students to study for their Ph.D’s, then the publication of a bilingual series, as well as small grants for research. This program attracted other faculty and students such as Jerry Sabloff. Most of use have profited at one time or another of this program, which developed thanks to the interest of the program officers and the late senator Heinz at the Pittsburgh foundation. Talking about this exceptional case, Jim acknowledges that it was Dick who did all the “heavy lifting” in preparing proposals and managing the program –Dick was and is the driving force behind this program.

Figure 10. Somewhere in the Amotape Mountains where the site got lost

Where in the Sechura is Estero? That site got lost…
In 1999, Jim was in the field in Peru searching for the Estero site in a first bout of rchaeological forensics. Jim explains that the 1997-98 mega-Niño altered the landscape, took out all the roads into the Amotape Mountains and covered the region with lush vegetation. He then went back to look at the site again, and could not find it. He admits he was a bit embarrassed! He recalls lots of razing from his companions on the trip. The landscape can change drastically on the desert coast during a rainy year. In 2000, a goat herder led them to the site – a trip he remembers as a death march due to the heat. Jim studied the Estero material in several phases at Cambridge, starting with a paper Barrington Brown and Jim gave at the 1966 SAA’s.

Figure 11. Jim as Peck. Into the whaling captain’s logs

Following the traces of the Ahabs of the world (SLIDE 10, in control)
Jim’s latest research is, again, in the line of forensic archaeology. This time Jim is searching for Niño weather data in U.S. whaling logs at the Martha’s Vineyard Museum and New Bedford Whaling Museum. The historical intensity of Niños is not well known in historic periods records, from the 16th and 19th centuries. Jim thought that at some point a whaler would have commented on climatic issues such as unusually long periods of rain. As whalers came into the Pacific after the 1790’s, says Jim, he was interested in logs of ships sailing toward Paita and Tumbes. His search has found a couple of cases where the sail along the Peruvian coast was rough by storms and high seas – a mega-Nino, which been identified through land-based historical sources.

Figures 12 & 13. Jim with spider jewel from Sipán. Jim with large Strombus.

Jim has shed an important influence in the research of Andean, American and world societies, and on indebted students like me. Jim’s professional life intersects with many of our careers as varied as these are (as this session shows). His engagement in Peruvian archaeology, from the North Coast to the Moquegua valley on the Southern Coast has been crucial to develop an important field of research in the Andes: climate, the Niño and political evolution. He was a pioneer in finding the archaeological evidence to combine climatic facts and social scenarios. His interests are broad as he is fascinated by a gold spider as much as by nice strombus, but better yet by a good cold Cristal. And thus on this refreshing note and with all of you, I wish Salud! to Jim for years to come.

Figure 14. Jim enjoys Peruvian beer.