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.
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.