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The Life and Writings of Julio C. Tello: America's First Indigenous Archaeologist

The Life and Writings of Julio C. Tello: America's First Indigenous Archaeologist

by Richard L. Burger

ISBN: 9781587297830

Publisher University of Iowa Press

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Chapter One

Julio C. Tello An Account of His Rise to Prominence in Peruvian Archaeology

RICHARD E. DAGGETT

JULIO C. TELLO was a world authority on Peruvian archaeology (Stewart and Peterson 1942:271). He has been described as an "Indian from the ranks and human dynamo, founder of three important museums and discoverer of culture after culture ... [who] knows as much Peruvian archeology as the rest of us put together" (Kroeber 1944:5-6). He was committed to the improvement of his race, and, in part, he chose to accomplish this through politics and archaeology (Daggett 1992a:193 n.2). Toward the end of his life, he was promoted as the New World's greatest archaeologist, a national institution virtually unto himself (West 1982:87). Even his detractors were forced to admit his archaeological preeminence (e.g., Beals 1934:105-106), while their criticisms often provided Tello with the motivation he needed to succeed (Tealdo 1942:8).

This chapter chronicles Tello's rise to prominence in the sphere of Peruvian archaeology. His encyclopedic knowledge reflected a life rich in archaeological experiences. The sites he investigated as well as the lives he touched upon probably each number in the thousands. It would be futile to try to recount them all; hence, only a few of each will be identified. Controversy played an important part in Tello's career, and, as such, its discussion merits inclusion here. In addition, because Tello's career was punctuated by two periods of upheaval that followed rifts in the nation's political fabric, some details of a political nature will be provided. Finally, in this same vein, because Tello used his position in the national legislature to promote, in part, his archaeological agenda, a brief review of this aspect of his political career will be presented.

The Preparatory Years: 1880-1912

Julio Cesar Tello Rojas was born on April 11, 1880, in the central highland community of Huarochiri (fig. 1.1). By the age of twelve, he had distinguished himself from his siblings by his keen inquisitiveness and unusually high level of energy. At that time, his aunt Maria, who worked as a chambermaid in the presidential palace, urged that he be sent to Lima to continue his education. The family agreed, and father and son left on horseback early on the morning of March 29, 1893, arriving in Lima late in the afternoon of April 1. His father arranged a pension for him and enrolled him in the Colegio de Lima on the advice of Maria (Mejia 1948:3-7, 1964:53-64).

At this time, Lima was still recovering from an occupation by Chilean forces during the years 1881 to 1884. The disastrous war with Chile had caused many of Peru's elite to conclude native Peruvians needed to be more fully integrated into the national framework if a recurrence of this military debacle was to be avoided. In July 1895 Nicolas de Pierola was elected president, and this initiated nearly two decades of unusually stable government in Peru (Werlich 1978:112-141). Hence, it was a most propitious time for native Peruvians like Tello to be in Lima. Unfortunately, his father's untimely death around this time left him financially bereft, and, save his aunt Maria's commitment to pay his school fees, he became responsible for all his expenses. He survived by selling newspapers on the street and by carrying luggage at the train station (Niles 1937:75-76). Too, he found work in a surgeon's office, and this experience so impressed him that he decided that he wanted to become a surgeon himself (Mejia 1964:66-67).

Tello excelled in school, despite his economic hardship, and he became friendly with one classmate in particular, Ricardo Palma (hereafter, Ricardo). Ricardo was the son of the Ricardo Palma, traditionalist and director of the Biblioteca Nacional. Through his son, he came to appreciate Tello's intellect as well as his plight, and he endeavored to help. The elder Palma hired Tello to deliver his mail to him daily, insisting that this be done during the noon hour, ensuring, thereby, that Tello had at least one meal a day (Niles 1937:76).

In March 1900 Tello and his friend Ricardo entered the Facultad de Ciencias of the Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos in Lima (Mejia 1964:69). Sometime later, however, Tello received a letter from home in which he was told that money was no longer available to help him with his schooling and that he must return to Huarochiri. This crisis was averted through an "amazing coincidence." According to the story, a position unexpectedly became available at the Biblioteca Nacional, and Tello was hired by the elder Palma to work at the library beginning July 7, 1900 (Anonymous 1958). Whether true or not, certainly the elder Palma had indicated a strong inclination to help Tello and was in a position to do so.

During 1901 Tello took a course in natural science with Jose Sebastian Barranca. Then seventy years old, Barranca had developed a strong interest in linguistics, and he found in Tello a native Quechua speaker who could assist him with his research. At Barranca's request, Tello conducted his first fieldwork that year during a vacation period (Mejia 1948:8). During February 1902 he made his first trip to Tupe in Yauyos Province to begin his study of the Kauqui dialect, returning in 1905 and later in 1926 to complete his work (Espejo 1959:24). On March 29, 1902, he and Ricardo entered their first year in the Facultad de Medicina at San Marcos (Mejia 1964:73). On April 7, 1902, Tello was made an official conservator at the Biblioteca Nacional (Espejo 1959:22), and in 1903 he was given a position to last through 1904 at the Museo de Raimondi located in an annex of the Facultad de Medicina (Mejia 1948:8-9). At this time, this facility was the closest thing to a national museum in Peru, and its collections included archaeological, ethnological, botanical, and zoological specimens (Tello and Mejia 1967:44, 52).

While cataloging the anthropological collection at the Biblioteca Nacional during 1904, Tello came upon the Sixteenth Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology. This thick volume included a report on trephination (Muniz and McGee 1897) and accompanying photos of trephinated skulls. Tello was stunned. One of the photos was of a skull that had been collected by one of his older brothers (Lothrop 1948:51) on behalf of his father, who was then the mayor of Huarochiri and had received official orders from Lima to collect skulls. This skull and others were sent to Lima, where they became the property of Manuel A. Muniz. Tello's chance discovery inspired him to study the English language (Lothrop 1948:51; Tealdo 1942:8). He was likewise inspired to begin collecting the remains of his ancestors (Mejia 1967b:vii). During his 1905 vacations, Tello began a systematic exploration of the provinces of Huarochiri and Yauyos (Mejia 1948:9). At times alone, at times with Ricardo, he visited numerous archaeological sites (Mejia 1964:73). Members of the Tello family and local laborers were used when needed (Palma 1957). Tello and his classmate returned to Lima with an especially rich collection of pathological skulls in March 1906. After consulting with his faculty advisers, Tello shifted the emphasis of his research from linguistics to the study of these skulls (Espejo 1959:63).

On Friday evening, May 4, 1906, in the salon of Lima's Sociedad Geografica, Tello made his public debut. He presented a detailed discussion on trephination that was illustrated by thirty trephinated skulls, a number of mummies, and various accompanying artifacts that he and Ricardo had recently found at sites in the vicinity of Huarochiri (Espejo 1959:62-65). Among those in attendance was the German archaeologist Max Uhle (Anonymous 1906), who had recently been contracted by the Peruvian government to create and direct a national museum of archaeology.

At the turn of the century, there had developed an enthusiasm for Peru's ancient past previously unknown in Lima's intellectual circles (Rowe 1954:11). Tapping into this enthusiasm, the enlightened government of Jose Pardo created, in February 1905, the Instituto Historico del Peru. In part, it was charged with the protection of the nation's archaeological heritage. Then, in May, the government founded the Museo de Historia Nacional, which was to operate under the institute (Tello 1959:36). What was needed was someone with expertise to run the museum, and Uhle was an obvious choice. He had conducted extensive fieldwork in Peru during 1896-1897, 1899-1901, and 1903-1905; had been the first to conduct stratigraphic excavations in Peru (Rowe 1959:5-6); and, during this period, had effectively laid the framework for Andean archaeology (Rowe 1954:1). Late in 1905, upon his return to Lima from an extensive expedition sponsored by the University of California, Uhle agreed to accept the challenge of establishing a national museum of archaeology (Rowe 1954:11).

The Museo de Historia Nacional officially opened on July 29, 1906 (Tello 1959:36), and Uhle immediately began work at various sites in the Rimac Valley. In effect, Lima bore witness to the birth of a national program of archaeological investigation, and the museum, which served to showcase the collected artifacts, became a new resource for students like Tello and his friend Ricardo. Modeled pottery at this museum, which exemplified specific pathologies pertinent to his research, became an integral part of Ricardo's thesis on the suggestion of Tello, who first saw the pieces on display (Palma 1908:56).

On May 15, 1907, Tello began work as an intern at the university's hospital, and on November 16, 1908, he successfully defended his thesis on the antiquity of syphilis in Peru (Mejia 1948:9). His thesis was accepted by acclamation, a first for the university. He had amassed an incredible collection of some 15,000 skulls and mummies. More than 1,000 of these skulls evidenced pathologies, while more than 500 showed evidence of trephination. His thesis committee recommended that the nation purchase Tello's collection for the purpose of establishing a Museum of Pathological Anatomy at San Marcos (Espejo 1959:28-29).

Tello was subsequently advised by the elder Palma to attend a dinner being held to honor a recent graduate of San Marcos. Palma, as one of the featured speakers, used this occasion to extol the achievements of Tello and, in effect, to introduce Tello to the intellectual elite of Lima (Tealdo 1942:9). Palma continued to advance Tello's cause at every opportunity. The university had published a special edition of Tello's thesis, and a copy was read at the First Pan American Congress, which was being held in Santiago, Chile (Espejo 1959:29). Two Americans who attended this congress later visited the Biblioteca Nacional. Antonio Miro Quesada accompanied them, and he introduced them to the elder Palma. Palma, in turn, introduced them to Tello. As they were leaving, Miro Quesada said to Tello that he was going to see to it that these Americans helped him with his career. Miro Quesada, a lawyer, journalist, politician, and member of the family that owned and operated the Lima daily El Comercio, made good on his promise. Tello later received by mail a Harvard catalog and grant application (Tealdo 1942:9).

On April 30, 1909, after completing his internship and passing his final exams, Tello was made doctor and surgeon by San Marcos (Mejia 1948:9). A month later, on May 29, a brother and two sons of the late president Nicolas de Pierola led an attack on the presidential palace. Loyal soldiers quickly put down this attempted coup, and Augusto B. Leguia, who had been elected president the previous year, took this opportunity to arrest not only the participants but other critics of his as well. Students from the Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos demonstrated for their release, and mounted soldiers and police attacked the students, killing one and wounding six others (Werlich 1978:133). In this suddenly unstable political atmosphere, Tello contemplated his future. The city of Lima, in its municipal session of July 28, 1909, awarded Tello a gold medal. This may have inspired the Leguia government to act because on August 21 Tello was awarded a two-year scholarship to study abroad (Mejia 1948:9). Though he had been leaning toward continuing his studies in France, he decided to go to the United States when Harvard University offered him free tuition (Lothrop 1948:51). After paying respects to his family in Huarochiri and to the Palma family in Lima, Tello left for the United States aboard the steamship Loa (Mejia 1967b:viii), arriving in New York City on September 30, 1909 (Mejia 1964:80).

At Harvard, Tello studied under such notable anthropologists as Frederic W. Putnam, Franz Boas, Pliny E. Goddard, and Roland B. Dixon (Mejia 1948:51), the last of whom helped Tello adjust to his new surroundings by tutoring him in English (Lothrop 1948:51). Tello took courses in archaeology, sociology, ethnology, and linguistics (Mejia 1967b:ix) and, with Dixon's help (Tello 1914b), produced a study on the South American Arawak language (Tello 1913a). He had numerous opportunities to interact with American scholars, the Northeast then being the nation's center for anthropological studies. The annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association was held late in December in Boston (MacCurdy 1910) and in Providence (MacCurdy 1911) in 1909 and 1910, respectively, and Tello was listed as a new member at the 1910 meeting (MacCurdy 1911:100).

In a letter to the elder Palma dated June 24, 1910, Tello mentions a forthcoming trip to Arizona with a Dr. "Ferokes" of the Smithsonian Institution (Palma 1949, 2:425). This would have been Jesse W. Fewkes, and the trip would have entailed an exploration of Pueblo ruins in northern Arizona (Editor 1910:348). In the same letter, Tello indicated that he hoped to meet with Ales Hrdlicka (Palma 1949, 2:425). Hrdlicka, then curator of the Division of Physical Anthropology at the Smithsonian Institution, was scheduled to return from a trip to South America. In September of that year, he presented, at the Seventeenth International Congress of Americanists held in Mexico City, a preliminary report that included a discussion of the human remains that he had collected at archaeological sites in Peru. Subsequently, on May 3, 1911, he spoke in Washington, D.C., on the same subject at a special joint meeting of the Anthropological Society of Washington, D.C., and the Medical Society of the District of Columbia (Michelson 1911:318-319). It is unknown whether Tello attended either or both of these talks. It is known, however, that he was named to represent Peru at the 1911 meeting of the Association of U.S. Army Surgeons held in Richmond, Virginia (Mejia 1964:81). Tello (1915) later reported that one of the nineteen trephinated skulls comprising the Muniz collection was stored at the U.S. Military Medical Museum, while the remaining eighteen were to be found at the Bureau of Ethnology in Washington, D.C. This suggests that Tello traveled at the expense of the Peruvian government to study the collection of skulls that had inspired him to become an archaeologist.

During June 1911 Tello received a master's degree in anthropology from Harvard University (Mejia 1948:10). With the active assistance of the elder Palma (Miro Quesada 1966:418-420; Palma 1949, 2:433), Tello was allowed to continue his education abroad in a government resolution dated September 2 of that year (Mejia 1964:81). He left for England at the end of October (Mejia 1967b:ix), accompanied by his friend Ricardo, who had also been granted a scholarship to study abroad (Mejia 1948:10). A later government decree, dated December 16, 1911, obliged Tello to present a paper at the upcoming Eighteenth International Congress of Americanists to be held in London. In January 1912 he received official notification that he had been named to represent his country as an honorary delegate at this meeting (Mejia 1964:81-82). During the ensuing period, Tello assisted in special anthropological courses at London University before giving his talk on May 28 (Mejia 1967b:ix). In his paper, which dealt with the trephinated skulls he had found in the highlands east of Lima, he reported that part of his skeletal collection was housed at Harvard University's Warren Museum (Tello 1912:76). He had offered his collection to the Leguia government in 1909, but this offer had been rejected for financial reasons, which prompted the elder Palma to advise him to offer it elsewhere (Miro Quesada 1966:418). Hrdlicka attended Tello's talk, and he publicly praised Tello for his work (Editor 1912:xxxix).

(Continues...)

Excerpted from "The Life and Writings of Julio C. Tello: America's First Indigenous Archaeologist" by Richard L. Burger. Copyright © 0 by Richard L. Burger. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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