A woman dodges rocks and Molotov cocktails to protect Peru’s ancient sites

Peru’s Ministry of Culture looks like a cross between a Soviet-era high-rise and an Incan fortress. And, in a tiny office on an upper floor, historian Blanca Alva is rushing through a pile of work.

Blanca Alva, Peru’s historian in charge of protecting the country’s “cultural patrimony,” confiscating illegal handicrafts.

Alva is in her 50s, and typically wears colorful knit cardigans. She has been deaf since childhood, and communicates by speaking and reading lips. Alva is the key person in charge of defending Peru’s “cultural patrimony,” and it’s a pretty crazy job.

Peru’s economy is exploding, and so is the real estate market here. In the capital, Lima, housing has gotten so tight that it’s spilled over into some of the country’s archaeological sites. Those sites are supposed to be protected, but land traffickers have been selling fake titles, leading people to build homes and even entire neighborhoods on top of important ruins.

Blanca Alva tells a story of how, a few years ago, she had to spend the holidays keeping thousands of people from moving into an archaeological site.

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