/ Explores the Complex / Main Monuments / Huaca Cortada


The El Brujo Archaeological Complex, situated on the coast of the valley of the river Chicama, is an extensive settlement where the first human presence dates back to 14 thousand years. In this prolific social history, Huaca Cortada (or El Brujo), located in the northeasternmost part of the complex and a few meters from the Pacific Ocean, is one of the most prominent pre-Hispanic constructions, given its ostentatious monumentality, its landscape that is intimately linked to the sea, and having been mentioned in the literature from travelers and archaeologists.

Huaca Cortada measures approximately 100 x 100 meters and it reaches some 17 meters in height. As Huaca Cao Viejo, it is built entirely with parallelepiped adobes from the Moche epoch (100-800 A.D.). The two gigantic gashes or cuts that can be seen on the south façade, and which go near the center of the building, unfortunately, are the most prominent traits of this huaca, and the reason for its current name [cortada: cut].

The oldest records on this building date from 1868, the year when Antonio Raimondi arrived in the Chicama valley as part of an expedition that comprised the entire country.The Italian naturalist documented the fact that, in those days, Huaca Cortada was called “Huaca Redonda” (Round Huaca), given that, as is still currently the case, its slopes covered all of its contour. It is particularly interesting that someone as thorough as Raimondi had not mentioned the two large gashes in the huaca, which leads us to suppose that they were made in later years.


Aerial photo of the El Brujo Archaeological Complex taken by the National Aerial Photography Service (SAN) in 1969.
Julio C. Tello and Alfred L. Kroeber.

In those days, the notable anthropologist Alfred L. Kroeber from the United States,arrived at the Archaeological Complex accompanied by Julio C. Tello, the father of Peruvian archaeology. In his visit of 1926, Kroeber recorded local accounts which reported that the gashes in the “Huaca El Brujo” were made by populations close to thecomplex. The goal of said interventions would be, according to those accounts, toextract the well-preserved adobes from the edifice, rather than the search for the supposed treasures that would exist within it. This explains such straight and cautiously-made shapes, especially the main carving.

In recent times, small-scale archaeological interventions were undertaken by the Wiese Foundation in order to understand the history of the construction of Huaca Cortada, thus called after the excavations by Junius Bird at Huaca Prieta (1949). Hence, the construction sequence of the monument was identified based on the profiles exposed by the larger gash (45 meters long and 5 meters wide). From this, we understand that Huaca Cortada had a constant process of architectural growth using the Interlocking Adobe Blocks technique, organized sets of parallelepiped adobes that are recognized in Huaca Cao Viejo for covering the previous levels used. Each important stage of construction of the edifice was related to a new stepped façade, making the huaca grow in size, both vertically and horizontally.

The friezes, recorded at the beginning of the XXth century, are high-relief polychrome images of a clear Moche style; from their style and stratigraphic position, they correspond to the earlier stages of Huaca Cortada. The designs rendered on these
walls are diagonal stripes with depictions of the Peruvian catfish (Trichomycterus sp.)with alternating colors. These mural figures and their configuration are recurrent in the early stages of Huaca Cao Viejo, specifically in the southernmost part of the Ray and Manta Ray Patio, and in the in the Enclosure-Mausoleum of the Lady of Cao.

All these evidences tell us that Huaca Cortada and Huaca Cao Viejo are, in sum, mutually-contemporary edifices, as far as the evidence allows us to understand, and that the functioning of both was probably complementary regarding political, religious
and even economic activities during the Moche epoch.

The works conducted by the Wiese Foundation, based on the exposed profiles of Huaca Cortada, as well as the early evidences set out in this article, have allowed us to identify the serious state of conservation of the monument. The outermost constructive stage is seriously damaged by the breeze and the salinity from the sea, which is a few meters away; the carved gashes, evidently, have not only destroyed the later part, but it has also penetrated into the earlier stages of the edifice, allowing the humidity to enter and affect the deepest part of the edifice and, thus, affecting its structural stability. Considering the great potential for information and knowledge that it contains, unveiling the secrets of Huaca Cortada implies intervening in it in an integral manner: a great effort that involves a sustained conservation project that goes hand in hand with scientific research, as well as later and permanent maintenance, monitoring and valorization works.

Figura 1. Vista de uno de los frisos registrados en el corte de la Huaca Cortada. Fotografía tomada por Samuel L. Lothrop (Peabody Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology at Harvard University).
Figura 2. Dibujo de uno de los frisos documentado en Huaca Cortada. Archivo CAEB / Fundación Wiese.

Bennett, Wendell C.

1939 “Archaeology of the North Coast of Peru. An account of exploration and excavation in Viru and Lambayeque Valleys”. Anthropological Papers of the American Museum of Natural History. Volume XXXVII, part 1. New York City: The American Museum of Natural History. Bird, Junius B. and John Hyslop

1985 The Preceramic Excavations at the Huaca Prieta, Chicama Valley, Peru. Anthropological Papers of the American Museum of Natural History, Volume 62, part 1. New York: The American Museum of Natural History. Franco, Régulo; César Gálvez and Antonio Murga.

2002 “La Huaca El Brujo. Arquitectura e Iconografía”. Arkinka 85: 86-97. Kroeber, Alfred L.

1930 Archaeological Explorations in Peru. Part II. The Northern Coast. Anthropological, Memoirs, Volume II, No. 2. Chicago: Field Museum of Natural History.