This insightful documentary tells the story of Rapayan, a small village in the highlands of Peru, and the ongoing struggle to preserve the ruins of its prehistoric past. Two hundred meters above the modern village of Rapayan lie the remains of Sucush Raga, a large hilltop settlement dating to 1000-1430 A.D. The ruins contain dozens of well-preserved structures, a fortification wall, and a large central funerary tower. However, the most impressive features of the site are the numerous wall niches believed to have been used for the display of mummified ancestral remains.
The film follows an international team of archaeologists as they conduct an archaeological survey in the Rapayan region and navigate the contentious local politics within the community. The result is a case study in the conflict between the scientific pursuit of the past and the local village's distrust of outsiders in the face of the threat to their collective heritage that is posed by modernization. While there are many films that focus on archaeologists conducting fieldwork, this film is unique in that its central focus is on the tensions that frequently develop when outside researchers enter and begin to work in communities. The lead investigator, Alexis Mantha, and his colleagues struggle to gain a foothold in Rapayan and address the villagers' distrust of outsiders. Mantha, who strongly believes his project is for the good of the community and that his research will benefit the villagers' understanding of their cultural heritage, is dismayed to find his project treated with suspicion. The film thoughtfully explores Mantha's motivations for working in the Rapayan region and presents interviews with [End Page 411] various community members, many of whom contend that the archaeologists are there only to pillage the ruins. Several of the villagers openly question what benefit will be gained through the archaeologists' work and express deep distrust of what has been promised. The film is especially thought-provoking as it speaks directly to the misunderstandings and misinterpretations that frequently take place between researchers and the communities in which they work. In this way, it shifts from being an archaeological documentary to an ethnography of archaeology and community involvement.
The film also traces Rapayan's rapid cultural transition into modernization. The view of Rapayan's uncertain future is well-positioned within a study that also explores the fragility of its past. When Mantha first visited the town on horseback in 2001, there was no electricity or running water. Since then, a newly elected mayor has introduced sewers, electricity, paved roads, and a connection to the Transoceanic Highway. Mantha and some community members not only see these construction projects as destructive to the local archaeological remains, but also fear that they are leading to the degradation of the community's identity and cohesion. Few younger villagers would debate this, as they are leaving the village in increasing numbers in search of new opportunities outside the village. Even interviews with young children indicate a desire to learn English and their plans to leave the village for a life in Lima. When asked who will look over the village of Rapayan after they leave, the children respond "the mummies can watch over the village"—an apt metaphor for changing times.
Rapayan is an important case study in the struggle to recover and protect the cultural heritage of the past and the present. As such, the relevance of this film reaches beyond the Andean researchers and offers insights for students and scholars interested in processes of globalization and modernization in indigenous communities everywhere, as well as in the confluence of archaeological pursuits and indigenous perspectives on archaeologists' motivations. This film is a good fit with a wide range of courses in anthropology, archaeology, Latin American studies, and globalization.