This Peruvian Beach Town Has 3,500 Years of Cultural Continuity

National Geographic explorer Gabriel Prieto was perhaps destined to become an archaeologist. He was raised in Huanchaco, Peru, a city built on the foundations of ancient structures. It’s been continually occupied for more than 3,500 years and home to the Moche, Chimú, and Inca cultures. Today, the cultural continuity is most apparent when fishermen pull up onshore in their reed boats and clean their fish. The reed boats were used by Peruvian fisherman thousands of years ago and are still used today. Inspired by the sense of cultural continuity around him, Prieto decided to devote his life to the study of ancient cultures and artifacts. He moved to the United States and earned a Ph.D. from Yale University specializing in archaeology. He returned home and is now a professor at the Universidad Nacional de Trujillo, realizing his vision of involving local people from Huanchaco in archaeological projects in the area. “The best way to get people involved and to learn about their own past is to give them the opportunity to work in the sites,” Prieto said.

Professor Gabriel Prieto in his lab. Photograph by Juan Antonio Puyol
Professor Gabriel Prieto in his lab. Photograph by Juan Antonio Puyol

Prieto and his students discovered a small but significant archaeological site at Pampas Gramalote, a fishing village near Huanchaco dating between 2000 and 1200 B.C. They unearthed a temple that was used by fishermen who hunted sharks over 3,000 years ago. It is the oldest archaeological settlement known in the area, providing a direct link between the contemporary coastal communities and their ancestors living in traditional fishing villages. Prieto and his students found children’s bodies in the temple, the positions of their bodies suggesting the children were sacrificed. He believes a few of the fishermen living in the village performed religious rituals at the temple site. Prior to the discovery of the temple, archaeologists believed that the ancient shark hunters were making religious offerings away from the village in a nearby valley.

In a town where traditional fishermen and women live side by side with commuters to nearby Trujillo and ancient burial sites lay across the street from the beachside hotels, time is relative. Though Prieto dedicates himself to preserving the history around him, he is a man constantly looking toward the future. He dreams of one day creating an archaeological park in his hometown to attract visitors and invest the local population in protecting their cultural heritage.

GlobalXplorer° is a cutting-edge platform that empowers citizen scientists around the world to help reduce looting and encroachment at important archaeological sites—as well as discover and protect unknown sites—using satellite imagery. Find out how you can become part of the GlobalXplorer° community and make a difference, beginning with our first expedition in Peru, at

Video Credits:
Senior Producer: Sarah Joseph
Producer: Carolyn Barnwell
Editor: Dave Nathan
Director of Photography: Juan Antonio Puyol
Executive Producer: Vanessa Serrao



Meet the Author
Carolyn Barnwell has been a producer on the Science and Exploration Media team at National Geographic for over five years. She creates content to support the non-profit National Geographic Society including impact initiatives and the important work of explorers and grantees around the globe. She wrote, produced and edited for Nat Geo’s first-ever web series focused on explorers in the field: Expedition Raw and Best Job Ever. She loves yin yoga, wildlife encounters, and eating baked goods while they are still warm from the oven.