Monday, February 19, 2007


Within the wind-swept Atacama desert in northern Chile, circular clay structures can be clearly seen. They are the 3,000 year old remains of Tulor, one of the oldest and best-preserved Neolithic villages in South America. Consisting of two room houses, a cemetery and stables, they were inhabited as far back as 800 BC.

Tulor's inhabitants raised cattle, grew maize and traded with communities as far away as present day Ecuador and Brazil. But climate change c. AD 300 caused their river to dry up and within a few hundred years, the village was abandoned. Sand covered the dunes, protecting the village, until it was discovered and excavated in 1958. But now the sand that once protected the village is destroying it, threatening to reduce the site to nothing.

Since 1998 the village has been managed by an indigenous community in Coyo, 2 km from the ruins, that has built a protective boardwalk around them and trained guides to lead tourists without causing further damage. Although they have appealed for help to stem the erosion to Chile's Council of National Monuments, there is no money. Those campaigning to save the site say the local communities in the Atacama depend on the income generated by Tulor's visitors. Meanwhile the World Monument Fund has put Tulor on its watch list of endangered sites.


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