Historical Figures

Julius Caesar Tello

Julio Cesar Tello Rojas , was born in Huarochirí (Lima) on April 11, 1880, in a home of modest social status. His parents were Julián Tello García and María Asunción Rojas Erques, who in addition to Julio César had eleven other children. He did his primary studies in Huarochirí and in 1893 he came to Lima to continue his secondary education, initially being enrolled in the campus run by Pedro Labarthe, and later in the Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe national school. In 1900 he entered the Faculty of Medicine of the University of San Marcos, where he was a classmate of Ricardo Palma , son of the traditionist, frequenting his house and winning the old writer's affection. This, in his capacity as director of the National Library, got him a position as curator. There, browsing the books, he approached the pre-Hispanic world from the study of indigenous languages ​​carried out by Sebastián Barranca. In 1906 he gave his first lecture on prehistoric skulls from Yauyos . In 1908 he obtained his baccalaureate in Medicine with the thesis The antiquity of syphilis in Peru and the following year -thanks to a scholarship granted by the Leguía government- he traveled to the United States to do postgraduate studies at Harvard University, staying there for three years. He had as teachers, among other prestigious scientists, Alex Hrdlicka and Franz Boas, obtaining a master's degree in Anthropology in 1911, being the first Peruvian to achieve such an academic degree in said study center. He then left for Berlin, Paris and London, attending various specialization courses and seminars. When he returned to Peru he ventured into political activity as a member of the National Democratic Party and was elected deputy for the province of Huarochirí. From his seat, which he held from 1917 to 1928, he tirelessly fought for the defense of the national historical and archaeological heritage.

Archaeological explorations in Peru

In 1913 he had begun his archaeological explorations accompanying his teacher Alex Hrdlicka on her investigations along the coast. In 1918 he graduated with a doctorate in Sciences with the thesis The use of artificially mummified human heads and their representation in ancient Peruvian art . The following year he began the explorations in the mountains that would lead him to support his thesis on the development of a high culture in the region. He visited Chavín and was impressed by its lithic art, later touring the adjacent area, from the Marañón to the coast, looking for evidence of the irradiation of what he defined as the "matrix culture of Peru". In 1919 he joined the University of San Marcos as a professor, founding that same year the archaeological museum of said house of studies. The following year he organized the Museum of Peruvian Archeology based on the Larco Herrera collection, acquired by the State in 1924. In 1925 he carried out excavations in the Paracas peninsula, defining a new culture based on the discovery of its necropolis and its extraordinary funerary bundles .
The fall of Leguía meant for Tello his separation from the Archeology Museum, being replaced by Luis E. Valcárcel. Such circumstance did not interrupt his investigations and in 1931 he found him exploring the Mantaro Valley. In 1933 he excavated the temples of Punkurí and Cerro Blanco (Nepeña), as well as the “La Ventana” cemetery in Illimo (Lambayeque). During this period, the University of San Marcos was closed and Tello went on to teach at the Pontifical Catholic University, where he had among his disciples Guillermo Lohmann, Javier Pulgar Vidal and Jorge Zevallos Quiñones (who would be his assistant). Sponsored by the University of San Marcos and the Nelson Rockfeller Foundation, he carried out one of his greatest achievements, the expedition to the Marañón, in which many sites in northern Peru located between the coast and the mountains were investigated, excavating in Sechín , Mojeque and Palca, in the Casma Valley. He then went up to the Sierra de Cajamarca and made a reconnaissance of the Cumbemayo aqueduct and the architecture of Yanacancha (Hualgayoc). Then he visited the Inca administrative center of Cochabamba (Amazonas), traveled through the mountains of Uchumarca until reaching Pataz, visiting the ruins of Nunamarca. Always active, from 1941 to 1946 he carried out new surveys in the valleys of Supe, Chilca, Mala and Arequipa, again in the Mantaro valley and later in the Urubamba valley.

Julio Cesar Tello and the National Museum of Anthropology

In 1945 the National Museum of Anthropology (today the National Museum of Archaeology, Anthropology and History) was created , being Tello its first director. He gathered there all the material accumulated throughout his explorations. As a university professor he renewed the chair with new courses such as General Anthropology, Physical Anthropology, Archeology of America and Peru. His classes were practical and he used to take his students to museums and archaeological sites. To help his students, he set himself the task of writing general works with a synthetic and panoramic view of pre-Hispanic cultures:Introduction to the history of ancient Peru (1921), Ancient Peru. First period (1929) and Origin and development of Andean prehistoric civilizations (1942). He published studies such as Arte muchik (1924) and Discovery of the Chavín culture. (1944). Archeology of the Casma Valley (1956), Paracas first part (1959), Chavín, culture of the Andean civilization (1961), History of the national museums of Peru, 1822-1846 (1967), and Paracas Caverns and Necropolis (1967) would appear posthumously. 1979). Most of his work remains unpublished. Before Tello died, he bequeathed his library and field notebooks to the University of San Marcos; the information contained in them has been partially published by his disciple Toribio Mejía Xesspe. On June 3, 1947 Tello died in the city of Lima; His remains rest in the National Museum of Archeology, Anthropology and History in Pueblo Libre.

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