What does one do when travelling and some time to kill before the next tour ? Have a look around for interesting people, something to eat or drink, shopping…or just take a seat in the plaza on a glorious sunny day on the outskirts of Paracas after a visit to the beach. This is just what I did and my eyes were drawn to a large bright red banner outside a small building across the road. Apart from some writing there were pictures of skulls on this banner. Elongated skulls. Like in the Indiana Jones movie, the one with the crystal skulls. That was it, I had to go and find out what this was all about. The entrance fee was modest, a mere 10 soles (about £2.50) and I was greeted by an Canadian archaeologist, Brien Foerster, who then gave me an elaborate tour of this exquisite small private museum. As soon as one walks through the door one is struck by a glass cabinet full of elongated skulls in a marvellous state of preservation. Behind them is a mirror so you can admire them from all sides. They belong to the people who once inhabited the Nazca plains. Elongating the skull from a very early age had beauty and status attached to it in those tribes. It is not known exactly how this was achieved and if there were any medical problems associated with this practice. The rest of the museum has clean, clearly labelled displays in glass cabinets and the lighting is bright and precise to bring out the best of this collection. It belongs to a very enlightened gentleman, Senor Juan Navarro Hierro who is usually in attendance. All the artefacts are from his own collection and he has many more not on display. There are textiles, tools,weapons, pottery, jewellery and more skulls. From the Nazca, Chicha, Wari and Inca people. Explanatory notes are displayed on the walls in Peruvian Spanish and English. This was so interesting I made time the next day to go back and was greeted by Senor Juan himself. He was clearly taken by my second visit and promptly showed me some of his treasures not on display. I was speechless by their beauty and preservation and was allowed to take pictures of as much as I wanted. I did not use flash on the delicately woven coloured textiles he carefully unrolled for me. These had been grave goods and were rescued from the onslaught of tomb robbers who destroy these delicate fabrics in order to pilfer small gold or silver ritual objects or statuettes. The most striking and beautiful piece is an Inca helmet which looks as if it was made only yesterday in joined up blue, white and red textile "rolls" with a bright yellow feather tuft at the top. It is undamaged. I spent hours in this museum and was so glad I had the time to do it.
Senor Juan and his archaeologist friend are struggling to publicise the existence of this jewel, it is not well known even in its home town of Paracas. Things are changing though and the mayor has got involved to help. So if you ever go and do the tourist trail in Peru and you are in Paracas to take a boat to the Ballestas Islands, don't forget this brilliant museum. You don't have to be interested in archaeology to appreciate its unique treasures.