How can Peruvian authorities protect archaeological sites from vandalism?

By Rene Zubieta for El Comercio
Translated and adapted by Rachel Chase

In the wake of a new graffiti incident on the famous twelve-angled stone in Cusco, many are wondering how to protect Inca walls from potential defacers.

How can Peruvian authorities protect archaeological sites from vandalism?

(Photo: Hakan Svensson)

The spray paint scribble on the famous twelve-angled stone is just the most recent case of damage on the Inca walls of Cusco, which are part of our historical and cultural heritage. And who is causing this damage? It’s not a natural disaster rather, it is us— humans— who are committing these crimes.

Ricardo Ruiz Caro, head of the Disconcentrated Culture Board of Cusco, told El Comercio that since the beginning of 2014, there have been at least four similar incidents in which assailants painted Inca walls with spray paint. In 2013, there were 33 such incidents, which included damages in the historical center of Cusco.

“In some of the cases, we have been able to identify some of the people from last year, like in the case of some young Chilean citizens, who were arrested and fined,” said Ruiz. The official also referenced a 2004 case committed by citizens from Peru’s neighbor to the south.

As well as assaults on archaeological and architectural remains, another manifestation of the disrespect that some have for cultural goods is robberies [of religious artifacts]. “According to the records from the last 10 or 20 years, we’re talking about 5,000 pieces that have disappeared from a large quantity of churches that we have in the region,” said Ruiz.

How can we stop these crimes?

Surveillance alone isn’t going to do the trick, said Ruiz, who told El Comercio that other tools, such as social commitment, are needed to stop vandalism at historical sites. Ruiz said that his organization is researching the possibility of developing an aggressive program to raise awareness, as the problem goes much further than just police control.

“I would like a special prosecutor’s office in Cusco that concentrates on crimes against heritage. It’s incredible, we have so much heritage in the city, and there’s no prosecutor that works with that issue,” he said.

Maria Elena Cordova Burga, cultural heritage and development specialist who serves as an adviser to the Cusco Culture Board, expressed similar sentiments. “It would help immensely if there were a prosecutor’s office dedicated to that, perhaps bringing together the forces of the prosecutor and the police, we could have a more specialized control.”

Cordova and Ruiz also agreed that authorities need to increase the penalties for such crimes, or to make them more drastic and effective. However both said that the most important thing is to raise awareness about the cultural heritage and identity of the country, which, above all, is an issue of education.

So, how do they clean Inca walls that have been spray painted?

“We use a highly specialized solvent in gel form. It turns into a thick gelatin, and it attaches directly to the paint. We have biodegradable solvents, so as soon as we’re done cleaning, we just wash them off with a little water and there’s no chemical damage to the stone. It helps to minimize the effects. Usually, we are able to take measures that completely erase [the paint],” explained Ruiz.

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(Graphic: Carla Quiroz/Peru this Week)

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