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Summer 2001
The Digger
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Analysis of the skeletal remains by Cordy-Collins showed that all three men were surprisingly tall, between 5 feet 9 inches and 6 feet tall. The height of a normal Moche adult male was 4 feet 10 inches to 5 feet 6 inches. She believes they may all have suffered from a form of gigantism called Marfan's syndrome, a genetic disorder that causes thin, elongated bones. Marfan's also can involve potentially deadly cardiovascular problems, which may account for why none of these men was more than 22 years old, while other Moche males often lived to be 50. The men may be the tallest pre-Columbians ever excavated in South America, and probably were genetically related, Donnan says.

Christopher Donnan is not Indiana Jones. He doesn't carry a bullwhip or fight Nazi ne'er-do-wells. "The real adventure of my life as an archaeologist," he says, "is intellectual, piecing together the story of Peru's past."

As a graduate student at UC Berkeley, Donnan began photographing Moche art objects, seeking to meld archaeology and the study of the artistic representations that the Moche created. When he joined the faculty at UCLA in 1968, he didn't plan to focus exclusively on Moche. "It just evolved that way," Donnan says. "I would become interested in a piece of the Moche culture, would conduct research on it and publish it, and during that process I would find more pieces that intrigued me.

"Finally, about 10 years ago," he says, "I realized I'm going to be working on the Moche for the rest of my life."

The breadth and quality of Donnan's work has made UCLA synonymous with Moche scholarship. His work over the past several years has been supported by the National Geographic Society, which published an article on the Dos Cabezas discoveries in its March 2001 magazine, "but UCLA has supported me from the very beginning."

Last summer when Donnan returned to Dos Cabezas, he did not expect to find a fourth tomb. He and his team excavated everything below the three tombs and found no others. He is confident they have found the full set in that location. But Donnan says he is not done with Dos Cabezas; the work there will continue for several more years.

Now he is preparing for this year's season. "I know exactly what we're going to do next. I've already run through it over and over in my mind," he says. "We'll excavate on the north side of the pyramid to determine its original size and form." Donnan also hopes to find the areas where potters, weavers and metalsmiths worked. "That would provide important information about the techniques that were used by Moche artisans, the nature of their production systems and the degree to which they were attached to and supported by the elite," he says.

After more than 30 years at this, his entire archaeological career, Donnan's passion for the work has not abated. "If anything, I am more excited about it now than I was at the beginning, as we make new discoveries and increase our knowledge," he says. So June to September will remain field time for Donnan and, no matter what, he'll be out there with the men, the shovels, the picks and trowels -- and the symphony of sounds that accompany the work he loves.


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