Ethno-Archeological Museum: Trinidad

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The Ethno-Archeological Museum (Museo Etnoarqueológico) of Trinidad, capital of the department of Beni, Bolivia contains very important specimens of pottery, utensils, tools and other remnants left by the Moxos culture thousands of years ago. The museum is located about 1.5 kilometers from the city center on the way to the UAB University of Beni (just prior to arriving at the Museo Ictícola, or Fish Fauna Museum). Here you can see pottery, remnants of woven textiles, and information on the hydraulic constructions and agricultural knowledge of the ancient Moxos peoples.

The video below was made by a group of students in 2018 to commemorate International Museum Day, celebrated every year around the world on May 18th. They visited every museum and gallery in Trinidad and added a little about each to their video. Great job guys!

The Earth Movers

Today we know that the Moxos so understood nature, the region’s climate, and the environment that they built over 20,000 man-made hills upon which they constructed their homes to keep above the floodwaters that regularly inundate the region during the rainy season. They also built artificial lagoons, deep furrows and terraces where they cultivated their crops, as well as dikes and embankments that connected them all. Everything was structurally well-planned to collect and store water for consumption and irrigation during the dry season and to dispel excess floodwaters during seasonal floods. They planned their structures so well that they were able to change the PH balance of the soil and convert it into soil that was adequate for cultivating corn. Because of this, the Moxos peoples are called The Earth Movers.

The lack of clean drinking water was not a problem either as the Moxos used the “tarope” plant to purify the water (this plant absorbs impurities) and also leaves a rich sediment behind.

The Vice Ministry of Tourism, in coordination with the National Archeology Unit, converted an abandoned BID building, along with the Prefecture of Beni, into what is now this beautiful ethnological and archeological showcase.

The Moxos culture existed at the same time as the Tiwanaku culture between 800 BC and 1200 AD. It was one of the largest hydraulic civilizations on Earth. It can be compared in size to the Egyptians, although they dominated only the Nile River while the Moxos moved among, and developed, hundreds of rivers, lakes, streams and lagoons, adjusting them to the needs of the people.

The Kenneth Lee Archeological Museum of the Department of Beni opened its doors on 18 November 2002 and is itself built upon one of the Moxos' artificial hills. The building is circular and made of local materials. Outside the building you can see remnants of the local geography while inside you can learn about the singular cultural and religious characteristics of the Moxos peoples. The museum grounds contain specimens of local plant life, palm trees, tajibos and other flowers and plants typical of “Beniana” nature.

There are 4 wells that serve as replicas of the immense lakes the Moxos dug throughout what is now the department of Beni. They constructed thousands of square miles of hydraulic systems by hand!

Tourists who visit this museum are usually very surprised and greatly admire the history of this very developed culture. Today the descendants of the Moxos peoples still inhabit the region. Unfortunately, national education authorities have done nothing to include information about this culture in history books or education curricula; therefore few Bolivians and even fewer foreigners are aware that Eastern Bolivia rivaled Western Bolivia in cultural development. The hydraulic systems of embankments, furrows, channels, dikes and artificial hills were so extensive and there is evidence of agricultural production in such mass quantities, it is believed that at least 8 million Moxos inhabited the area as early as 800 years prior to the Christian era, that is to say, parallel to the most highly developed cultures of Northern Africa and Asia.

The museum contains aerial photographs of the extensive hydraulic systems that cover thousands of square miles on the plains of Beni. Tourists who can afford to would do well to hire a helicopter or small plane to do a fly-over of the region. It is believed the Moxos culture died out due to climactic calamities such as excessively long droughts, at about the same time the Tiwanaku culture began to wane. One very interesting find is that the Moxos used stone tools made form materials not found in this area. This leads some scientists to believe they may have possibly exchanged or traded with the Tiwanaku culture, but this hypothesis has yet to be studied in depth.

The museum is open Monday to Friday from 8 am to 6 pm and does not close during the traditional midday “siesta” hours. On Saturdays it is open form 9 am to 1 pm. It is located 1.5 kilometers from the city center. Photography is allowed on the outdoor grounds but not indoors. For a city tour that includes this museum contact Moxos Tours.

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