Creating Myth

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This is a slightly re-written ver­sion of a short piece I wrote else­where. I’m put­ting it up here because it tackles a timely prob­lem. What do you do when you want to attract tour­ist dol­lars, but keep los­ing out to that big archae­olo­gical site down the road? The cit­izens of Chucuito saw at the bus­loads of vis­it­ors going to Tiahuanaco and decided to build their own temple. The prob­lem is that Tiahuanaco is pretty impress­ive so any com­pet­i­tion would either have to be equally large, or else some­thing pretty noteworthy.

Inca? Temple
Chucuito Fertility Temple. Photo by Moonbird.

Welcome to the Inca Ullo temple of fertility.

A researcher invest­ig­at­ing Inca sites dis­covered that twelve years ago the people of Chucuito decided to build their own authen­tic ruins dat­ing from the 1500s. They then con­coted a legend that women would visit the temple to ask for fer­til­ity. Twenty four stone phal­luses later, they had one killer photo oppor­tun­ity and thou­sands of vis­it­ors. You can see more pho­tos at Jerry Peek’s site, or Rhymer​.net. You might be won­der­ing, “Is this safe for work?” but how unsafe could a temple devoted to penis wor­ship be?

The story made a small splash on the web, with brief notices from Ananova and The Commonwealth Times. The Sun had a big­ger story, com­plete with pic­ture. We can only be thank­ful the reporter didn’t know that the early 1500s in some parts of Peru is known as the Wanka period. The International Herald Tribune only seems to have picked up the story this spring.

The decep­tion raises some inter­est­ing ques­tions about con­sump­tion of the past. Is it a fake site? The answer might seem to be pretty obvi­ously yes, but what does it mean for a site to be fake? A lot of the myth sur­round­ing King Arthur is made up. Yet people would accept Glastonbury as a genu­ine Arthurian site but reject Milton Keynes as hav­ing any role in the myth. Surely a lot of Milton Keynes would be explained by an Arthurian curse on the land. The bound­ary between real and fake isn’t hard and fast when look­ing at mythic sites, as Cornelius Holtorf noted in an earlier ver­sion of this post. Does a myth accrue authen­ti­city with the passing of cen­tur­ies, or can myths be cre­ated today?

I sus­pect the rev­el­a­tion will only increase vis­itor num­bers because now it’s a ‘con­tro­ver­sial’ site. Indeed if Disney made a heart­warm­ing film of plucky vil­la­gers build­ing a fake temple to save the local orphan­age from clos­ing then it would become even more of a draw. Is this site, and her­it­age sites in gen­eral, selling know­ledge or exper­i­ence? One for Michael Shanks or Cornelius Holtorf I think. For a less post-modern approach to exper­i­ence there’s the Trireme Veterans for Truth.