A terp for Choquequirao

Why in heaven’s name should a terp be constructed in the Andes? To be more precise, the location for this terp is at the remote, archaeological Inca site Choquequirao in Peru. The answer to the question is not too difficult. The idea was inspired by the monument at the Tsjitsma terp at the village of Wijnaldum, designed by architect Nynke-Rixt Jukema.

Preparations for the construction of a terp at the Inca site Choquequirao have started already. A terp is an artificial settlement mound called a Warf(t) or Wurt in region Ostfriesland and in Kreis Nordfriesland in Germany, and a wierde in province Groningen in the Netherlands. The word terp is Mid-Frisian speech, but it found its way into English too. Getting to the mountain site of Choquequirao is only possible on foot, or with mule, or horse. It will take you three days hiking through exceptional steep but beautiful mountains to get there. Author of this post did this hike in January 2015. Find his post about this trip here (in Dutch). Choquequirao is also nicknamed little Machu Picchu, although it is just as big.

It is a unique location. Situated above 3,000 meters, fantastic views all around, and it is pretty isolated. Only a few other hikers/tourists will be there too. We can recommend every hiker to do this fascinating trip, and imagine you are Lara Croft, Indiana Jones or, of course, Hiram Bingham.

In the center of the site an almost perfect circle has been cleared. Actually, the peak of a small mountain top has been chopped off (see featured image of this post above). This is the exact spot where the terp will be erected in the Andes soon.

It was architect Nynke-Rixt Jukema of the company NRJ architectuur who came up with the idea of a Peruvian Inca temple as the monument to mark the spot where the famous seventh-century fibula was found in province Friesland. The fibula is (too) modestly exhibited at the Fries Museum in Leeuwarden (the Netherlands). Sculptor Roelie Woudwijk is the artist hired to do something with a rock inside the temple. As Nynke-Rixt explained to the media August 2017, she was inspired after she had visited Peru and had seen Inca temples. What intrigued her was that, according to Nynke-Rixt, everything was so very much interconnected with nature and especially with the sun. It made her fantasize that the spot where churches stand on terps today, were the spots of former places of sacrifice.

It is probably true, elements of nature were part of the spiritual world of the old-Frisians as well. But there is no support what-so-ever it was the sun. Not at all. More plausible is that water -especially creeks, peat-bogs, marshes- had a spiritual significance (Groenewoudt, 2016). This can be derived from ritual depositions in creeks, ditches and waterholes or in dobbes (handmade waterholes) at terp slopes, or at the tidal marshlands (within a circular dike). But also, the deposits already during the Bronze and Iron Age in peatlands of valuables and ritual human sacrfices, the so-called bog bodies (read our blog post The Killing Fields, of the Celts). All not very surprising for people living in a big delta and in particular at the treeless salt marshes. Neither does the preserved index of the book Indiculus superstitionum et paganiarum, an index of a book dated mid-eighth century describing pagan rituals of the Saxons and the Frisians, mentions any rituals of worship related to the sun. Not the slightest.

Nynke-Rixt’s little temple

Furthermore, churches in Frisia (stone churches were built nearly 500 years after the fibula was worn, by the way) have not been built, as far as we know, on former places of heathen sacrifice. There is not a thread of proof indicating this. Who knows we will come across an exception in the future but in general the answer is without a doubt no. Quite the contrary, in fact. Research shows that locations where churches were erected, were carefully chosen by the Church to effectively cover populated areas, their communities, their dioceses. Former places of sacrifice were not a consideration, if these places of human sacrifice ever have existed anyway. And, of course, early-medieval Anglo-Saxon and Frankish preachers in Frisia were not the same as the Spanish conquistadors in Peru a thousand years later. Neither did they implement the same strategy, as far as we know.

There might be a few exception of wooden churches built at pre-Christian places of heathen cult in the late seventh and early eighth centuries. This was at the villages of Heiloo and Hargen in western Frisia, current province Noord Holland. Churches founded by the Anglo-Saxon monk Willibrord, the Apostle of the Frisians.

Yet again contrary to what Nynke-Rixt thinks ‘we know so little’, the wet fat clay conserves organic remains exceptionally well, and it is a rich source for archaeologists to date. So we know a lot more as you and she might expect in a land without rocks and stones. Roelie: why a rock? Come on! Please? It is only soft clay and smelly mud here. Rock has always been imported, already since the Early Middle Ages. Lastly, do not forget terps are considerably older than Inca temples. Easily 1,000 or 1,500 years older. Or, to put it as a Dutchman living in the Peruvian high mountains did:

Remember the Sint-Servaas church in the city of Maastricht is twice as old as most Inca ruins and ís still standing while Inca temples have fallen into ruins.

In other words: an Inca temple is a less successful and a fairly modern phenomenon to be put on the ancient terp in Wijnaldum. At least do not compare the two too easy. The terp is simply too superior.

But trying to look at it more on the bright side: is it artistic subconsciousness of Nynke-Rixt that she wants to ‘re-balance’ history? Namely, for all the cathedrals that have been placed by the Spaniards on top of holy Inca temples, an Inca temple is placed on a terp where maybe (with a very big maybe) once a church stood?

Leaving all relevant archaeological research and knowledge of (Frisian) terp-culture and speculations about artistic subconsciousness aside, this is a fact:

An Inca temple placed at an ancient Frisian terp is a total match. Precisely why a terp in the Peruvian Andes at an Inca site is a perfect match too!

Think it is too exotic? Well, the Frisian Bouwe Vrijburg set up the dairy farm ‘Friesche Terp’ in Pengalengan near Bandung in the Dutch-Indies, now Indonesia, in ’30s of the last century.

We are -however- still working to further substantiate our reasons why a terp on a rock at 3,000 meter in the Andes is actually a very logic thing to do. Supporting arguments are still very welcome! And while you are at it, please supply Nynke-Rixt Jukema with some arguments for erecting her exotic sun temple with -for heaven’s sake- a rock inside.


PS: If you want to know how a terp is and should be constructed, read here our blog post with the first Manual Making a Terp in 12 Steps.

PS: Maybe we should give Nynke-Rixt a bit more credit, because raised fields and terps were common in inundated parts of pre-Columbian Amazonia and have also been found in the coastal swamps of Suriname and the Guyanas.

Suggestions for further reading

  • Groenewoudt, B., Beek, van R. & Groothedde, M., Christianisation and the Afterlife of Pagan Open-Air Cult Sites. Evidence from the Northern Frankish Frontier (2016)
  • Nieuwhof, A., Bakker, M., Knol, E., Langen, de J.G., Nicolay, J.A.W., Postma, D., Schepers, M., Varwijk, T.W., Vos, J.C., Adapting to the sea: Human habitation in the coastal area of the northern Netherlands before medieval dike building (2019)
  • Nieuwhof, A., Eight human skulls in a dung heap and more. Ritual practice in the terp region of the northern Netherlands 600 BC – AD 300 (2015)
  • Langen, G. de, & Mol, H., Terpenbouw en dorpsvorming in het Friese kustgebied tussen Vlie en Eems in de volle middeleeuwen (2016)
  • Saupe, H.A., Der Indiculus Superstitionum Et Paganiarum. Ein Verzeichnis Heidnischer Und Aberglaubischer Gebrauche Und Meinungen Aus Der Zeit Karls Grossen (1891)
  • Steijlen, F., Friese koeien tussen de sawa’s/ Een speurtocht naar Fries melkvee en melkproductie in Nederlands-Indië (2018)

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