Fredrik Hiebert: Peruvian Gold | Nat Geo Live

Fredrik Hiebert: Peruvian Gold | Nat Geo Live

( intro music ) ( Peruvian flute ) Hiebert: National
Geographic’s relationship with photography and
Peru are all intertwined. All of Peru, unbelievable country
of mysteries and surprises. This is definitely one of
the centers of civilization. It’s really
incredible to be able to look into the eyes
of an ancient ruler. This is the power
of archaeology. ( applause ) Hiebert: Thank you
all for being here. I want to talk to you a little bit about
being a representative of National
Geographic and working in these great civilizations and I like to
bring storytelling to these and I like to
tell stories about heroes. National Geographic’s
relationship with photography and
Peru are all intertwined. I want to tell you
that little story. I actually want to
start by telling you a little bit about Peru. It’s extraordinarily photogenic. This is a photograph
by Hiram Bingham who documented the
high mountains of Peru. This is really
what makes Peru one of the great centers
of civilization, is its geography. The high mountains,
the beautiful rich valleys between the mountains
and the coast. The coastal deserts
which were once described in the pages
of National Geographic as being small Nile Deltas. And in fact unlike Egypt
that has 1 Nile River, northern Peru has
20 of these deltas. It’s unbelievable
you can have 1 foot in the fertile delta
and 1 foot in the desert. This makes it an
extraordinary place for preservation and creation of ancient civilization. It’s a place where
archaeological sites tower above the countryside. This particular mound
that you see in the front is actually a Peruvian pyramid. Here’s an example
of what one could imagine that looked like in the past. There are 20 such river
valleys in northern Peru. It’s an outstanding,
unbelievable relationship and much of it
has to do with the fact that it is one of the largest,
most productive coasts along the pacific
coast of the New World. Its unbelievable culture,
unbelievable country and it’s that
geographic relationship that we like to
explain, helps explain how Peru is a country
that can both be described as having over
10,000 archaeological sites or as I like to say,
“There’s only 1 site in Peru, all of Peru.” It is really,
you walk the Inca Trail and you really can’t
tell when you’re on a site and off a site. The entire country
from the north coast to the south coast,
from east to west, It’s unbelievable country
of mysteries and surprises. Now I’m actually
going to start telling this story a little bit before the founding of
National Geographic because so many
travelers and adventurers have been attracted to Peru. It’s sort of mysterious
and wonderful. It’s been attracting people
for hundreds of years. Its history goes back
more than 3,000 years. It has separate cultural
traditions on the north coast, the highlands, and the south coast. It’s really phenomenal. I have to take my
hat off to yet another set of
incredible heroes. Julio Tello, the father of
Peruvian archaeologists. He was from the highlands. He really introduced the idea of Andean civilization. He began to study the cultures
of ancient Peru. He’s one of the 1st researchers to come up with that chronology. He had a partner, Rafael Larco. These 2 guys,
they kind of fought over where the heart
and soul of Peru lay. You had Tello, who was
from the highlands, who argued for
temples and islands and you had Larco,
who came from the coast he said,
“Not, it is coast cultures” and that debate
continues to this day. We all were fascinated by
the mystery and culture and we all thought
that this site which Tello worked at,
that Larco worked at, the famous temple of
Chavín de Huántar. It was really the heart, the essence of
Andean civilization. It was so important and it was so mysterious
and so luxurious that it actually became
my introduction to archeology and my introduction
to South America. I had the chance to visit– ( laughter ) Well, okay, it wasn’t last year. All right so, you’re
looking at this statue, you see this statue, right? It’s carved and beautiful
3,500 years old. Oh, yeah, I was a hippie. Once, a little while ago. But that’s Chavín de Huántar. What an introduction
to South America. What an introduction to Peru, to go visit a place. What a way to get inaugurated into the wonders of archaeology. It’s great and I became
intrigued with the history of all this exploration
and who went and where. We all sort of looked
even further back into the pages,
“Who was exploring?” “Who was caught
with this mystery of wonder of the
archaeology and culture?” I became enamored with
this particular fellow, Ephraim Squier. He was a wonderful explorer for the U.S. government. He was sent as
the commissioner to Peru by none other than
Abraham Lincoln in the 1860s. This is how far the
history goes back in this and the wonderful storytelling. As commissioner, he wrote this incredible book called, “The Land of the Incas,” illustrated with 500 woodcuts. Really, I mean,
it was the artistry, the magnificence,
the wonder of this country that attracted people. These woodcuts were
known and reproduced. This was a very
popular book published in the 1877. People were so desirous. I became fascinated
because there was this photograph
of Ephraim Squier and being here at
National Geographic we’re, naturally,
very interested in photographs. But you know, Squier, he made these
incredible illustrations that are woodcuts in his book and we assumed that he must have had a photographic memory. Look at this bridge,
unbelievable. You had to go to Peru to imagine that something
like that was real. It was so exciting
for me to see, in a woodcut like
this of Alto Peru which is today on the other side of Lake Titicaca but still part of this greater Peruvian… I became quite curious, being
here at National Geographic, “How did somebody record
something like this?” It was only recently
and I was so excited to be able to find
the photo archives that were the basis
for the 500 woodcuts. It shows the
relationship between photography and archaeology. We have one of the
great photographers of National Geographic,
Kenny Garrett, who’s here, who can attest to the fact that photographing in Peru is like photographing
a wonderland. It was amazing to
see how beautifully reproduced the photographs. Here’s one of the
woodcuts from 1877. Here’s one of the newly
discovered photographs that Squier took. He was not only an explorer, he himself was a photographer. I became intrigued
with this aspect, this relationship between photography and archaeology. I think it’s critical to our
understanding of the past. Not only in Peru
and Central America, in Egypt and Greece,
it’s so exciting. I became attracted
to another one of the greatest photographers
who ever crossed into Peru, Hiram Bingham. Yes, Hiram Bingham
is known primarily for describing Machu
Picchu, but do people realize that he was
an incredible photographer? At that time, 1911 and 1912,
being director of an expedition meant that you were also
the photographer. He had this incredible camera
created by Kodak for him and he took these pictures that were not just documentation but were art themselves. They were the 1st
rock star archaeology project in National Geographic. His photographs
really are incredible. We have about 2,000
of these photographs here in the photo
archives and some day we’re going to do an exhibition of the photo archives here. It’s just an
incredible opportunity to work with people
like Bill Bonner, here in the photo archives and see exactly what the genius
of photography is. If you look at this picture taken by Bingham of Machu Picchu with the mountains and the cloud and the local personality
on the right hand. It is such a story, such a photographic
essay in 1 picture. It’s really very,
very inspirational. He also documented
the people of Peru. For me, this is the real gift that Hiram Bingham gave to Peru, which is a wonderful
photo record of Peru and ancient Peru and the people of Peru
all living together. What an inspiration
for cultural heritage. This isn’t the only time that we’ve photographed
Peru and ancient Peru. We’ve been at the forefront and if we fast forward
to really one of the 1st color photos
of an archaeological picture published in National
Geographic magazine, it, of course, came from Peru. This is William Duncan Strong who in 1946 came to Peru and after seeing all
these wonderful artifacts, came in hopes of finding the 1st intact Moche burial. Moche is a northern
coast period in Peru about 2,000 years
old, very mysterious, only known from the artifacts and his intention was to come and document an intact burial, almost an impossible feat. But, they found one on the coast and to quote from
the 1947 issue of the magazine, Strong and Evans
found this burial and everybody was so excited. They’d never seen
an intact burial from 2,000 years ago. So, they opened it
up and Evans said, “I’m hungry, let’s have lunch.” ( laughter ) I tell you, I love reading
past National Geographics. It’s really great. So, all of his workmen
were sitting there confused because they just
found something that had never
been found before. The next picture
which was published in the pages of
National Geographic, is the 1st time you
are looking inside of an intact Moche burial. I think that this is something that National Geographic
has taken on as a cachet in
terms of telling the stories of the
ancient populations. This is a unique picture, “12 pots that have never
been seen together in situ.” This documentation
went around the world in April 1947. These 2 people,
Strong and Evans, became a hero of mine
as we pursued this past. Here’s one of
their color plates. Now, these plates
had to be specially put into each one
of the millions of copies of National
Geographic magazine. We have even more
advances in photography, archaeology and
the understanding
of ancient Peru. 1988, another
intact Moche burial from the north coast
of Peru was found. They gave a call to Walter Alva and to Chris Donnan,
2 researchers who were funded by
National Geographic said, “Please, let’s go. Let’s go.” We started to document these in a way that I don’t
think archaeology has ever been documented before and this came out
in an 1988 issue of the magazine which just happened
to be on the 100th anniversary of National Geographic. I don’t know how that came about but it’s really incredible. The 1st time to be
able to look into the eyes of
an ancient ruler of Peru and see the archaeologist
at the same time. To come up with this new way to communicate, not only
through photographs, but through these
iconic drawings. This instantly became
“the” classic model for how archaeology
is presented, not only on the pages
of National Geographic, but in every textbook and
all the way around the world. I think it’s really cool. On the right-hand side, you see the different layers from the original coffin box to the way the textiles
were laid down to the way the
artifacts were laid and to the way
the body was put in. Everything done in
exquisite scientific and artistic detail. It became one of the cachets of National Geographic and Peru. These large scale photographs, this is, I think, the first time we had a centerfold
in National Geographic. This was a 3 page
picture of this burial. I don’t know how they
took this picture in 1988, but it is so detailed
and so incredible. What it is for us
who are looking at the beautiful
specimens in the museums and the pieces of Peru and the pieces
you see on display, it really gives us a key, it allows us to have
an, “Aha” moment. When you go back
to the exhibition and you see things
like a nose piece. You say, “Aha! Now I understand
why it’s there. Now I understand why it means something for ancient Peru.” Or, we see this beautiful
turquoise pectoral and we’ve just have seen it
in the picture of the Lord of Sipán and we say, “Aha!” “Now I understand
were it comes from.” “Now I understand its
cultural significance.” This is the power
of archaeology as presented in
National Geographic. I’ll tell you one more story
about the history, and it’s both a good
and bad history. Is that this wealth of Peru has invited looters to come. This is where professor
Izumi Shimada works and this is his
photograph which he uses to illustrate the fact that
the archaeological site where he works at has somewhere, and he said
he counted himself personally, over 100,000 looters pits. It’s unbelievable. It’s from this site that we know that this famous mask, we call it
the Italian mask at this point, because it became known that it was from Sicán. We knew where it was from thanks to the work of
professor Izumi Shimada. This piece, actually,
the back story of it is, as soon as it became known that it came from
a certain site in Peru, it became a celebrity in Italy. It was as well known
as a movie star. It was neat to see,
archaeology, its portrait was on the front
pages of magazines. Here’s the president of Italy with that handoff moment
to ambassador Forsyth. I think it’s an
incredible moment of cultures, ancient cultures, understanding one another. It was Shimada’s excavation, Shimada and Carlos Elara, director of the Sicán museum, who really spent the time
to understand that context, digging down, down, down, 20, 30 feet deep
into the ground. These are really heroic
excavations going down in hopes of being able
to find the context and telling the story. In 1991 that dream
for Izumi Shimada started to come true. He looked down and
he saw something that glittered,
something that really hadn’t expected to see. This is professor
Shimada and you can see the 24 feet of earth above him. I asked Izumi today, “Weren’t you a little worried?” He said, “No, we
checked everyday.” “Not to worry, not to worry.” It was really incredible
and there he found this piece
with its photographs showing exactly how
it was found in situ. In a way, it reminds me so much of Strong and Evans description of the 1st Moche mask,
the 1st Moche intact burial written on the pages of
National Geographic in 1947. The thing about the Strong
and Evans article in 1947, there was a description
but no photograph of the mask. Here it is,
magnificent ornamental elaborate headdress
that really shows the power of the individual and the power that gold exudes and the importance
that this material is in Peru. Don’t forget, in Peru,
gold was never a commodity. It was never traded
for its value, it was never stored as wealth. It was always used
to symbolize power and that connection
with the sun. When you see it in its
original cultural context with the flames coming off and the bursts and
the incredible wolf-like animal who professor Shimada
has promised me, whose tongue still
wags back and forth. ( laughter ) You understand that power. Well, I’d just like to end with a little bit about the way
that National Geographic and archaeologists continue
to work in Peru and continue to innovate
in archaeology but especially through the lens. We’re really happy to have
on staff at National Geographic some innovators in photography. This is Fabio Amador
who works for the Waitt National
Geographic Grant Program, and his camera there
is something really special called the GigaPan
and he is taking a picture, this is just a few months ago, at the famous site
of Huaca de la Luna and these murals, which
have never really been thoroughly documented, but these type of
advances in photography and in the way we
visualize the past, they mean so much
to archaeology, to Peru, and to science. Thank you very much. ( applause )


  1. Amazing,how the photographer played the major parts in archeological works,truly amazing history that have been digged and preserved as the diamond of civilization…

  2. Grande Perú. Visit Perú, you won't regret it. Food is great, people are friendly, there's hundreds of places to visit and things to do =) Peace

  3. Perú es una potencia arqueológica. Tuve la oportunidad de conocer la Huaca de la Luna y del Sol.. realmente increíble.

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