Squatters issue death threats to archaeologist who discovered oldest city in the Americas

Squatters reportedly belonging to one family claim site of 5,000 year-old ruins was given to them in the 1970s

The Huanca monolith in the Caral archaeological complex. Photograph: Ernesto Benavides/AFP/Getty Images

Illegal squatters have invaded the ruins of the oldest city in the Americas, and made death threats against Ruth Shady, the celebrated Peruvian archaeologist who discovered the 5,000 year-old civilization.

The threats came via telephone calls and messages to various workers at the archeological site at the height of Peru’s Covid-19 pandemic. They followed reports to the police and prosecutors about the invasions of the ancient ruins of Caral.

“They called the site’s lawyer and said if he continued to protect me they would kill him, along with me, and bury us five metres below the ground,” said Shady, 73.

“Then they killed our dog as a warning. They poisoned her, as if to say, look at what will happen to you,” she said.

It is not the first time Shady has been threatened or attacked. In 2003, she was shot in the chest during an assault on the 626-hectare (1,546-acre) archaeological complex which was declared a Unesco world heritage site in 2009.

After nine invasions of the sacred city during the pandemic period, Shady and her team repeatedly asked the authorities to intervene.

“There is a feeling that there is no authority dedicated to the protection and defence of our heritage. It’s a huge worry,” she said.

In July, squatters using a heavy digger knocked down adobe walls and tore up the ground destroying ancient ceramics, tombs containing mummies, textiles and household remains, before police and the site’s staff were able to stop them.

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