Caroline Coolidge was stunned.
The rising second-year was digging at the archaeology field school in San José de Moro, Peru, and there in the dusty dirt a small face stared up at her. She thought her eyes were playing tricks on her.
“I honestly at first just thought I was imagining it because I just wanted to find something so bad,” said Coolidge, a Leverett House resident who is taking part in the summer archaeology program run by Pontifícia Universidad Católica del Perú in collaboration with the Harvard Summer School Study Abroad Program. “I thought, ‘This can’t be this intact piece of pottery.’ But I just kept brushing away. I was honestly speechless when I saw what it was.”
What it was, was truly special.
Earlier in the week students had unearthed fragments of ceramic vessels, a typical find at one of the oldest ceremonial burial grounds for the Moche, a pre-Columbian civilization that flourished along Peru’s northern coast between the first and eighth century A.D. But Coolidge had come up empty. “I hadn’t really found anything where I had been working,” she said. “I was excited but feeling a little bit discouraged because I wondered if I was doing this wrong.”
Determined, she kept at it, using her trowel to methodically clear away dirt in the site’s northwest corner. Then, as she brushed the dried soil from what she thought was a rock, she slowly uncovered a fully intact figurine, likely from the transitional period between the Moche and Lambayeque cultures and approximately 1,000 years old. In addition to its pristine condition, what made Coolidge’s discovery so unusual was the absence of other objects nearby. “Typically, this type of artifact would be included in a burial,” she said, “but there were no burials found near it.”