Apsara Iyer ’12 Explores the Impact of Archaeological Tourism

As 400 million people tuned in to watch the centennial celebration at Machu Picchu this past July, a group of protesters gathered in Cusco’s main square denouncing the excessive profits from tourism.

Apsara Iyer ’12 presented this image while introducing her audience to the context for her CAMD presentation, “The Impact of Archaeological Tourism on Indigenous Communities in Peru.”

Iyer’s presentation last Friday focused on the differing relationships between indigenous communities and archaeological sites, particularly the factors which define this relationship. Her talk delved deeper into one factor – cultural awareness – to discuss the way legends served as a medium of cultural authority.

She concluded that economic potential, local organization and cultural awareness were the most significant factors to a locals’ relationship with an archaeological site.

Economic potential referred to an individual’s thoughts on how his or her personal profit varied with increasing or decreasing levels of tourism. Rather than measure profits, the potential specifically measured perceived economic gain, according to Iyer.

Iyer identified local organization, the second factor, as the four primary ways in which local vendors or guides organize themselves. She observed unassociated vendors, associated vendors, neighborhood associations and Peruvian Ministry of Culture employees.

Her third factor, cultural awareness, represented an aggregation of three sub-factors: knowledge of history, legends and other sites.

Through linear regression analysis, she found that economic potential was the factor most closely related to an individual’s cultural awareness. This implies that an individual who felt he or she could earn more money was more likely to know more about local history, culture or tourist sites.

Iyer described her initial frustration as she struggled to find a way to hear individuals’ thoughts on their own culture.

“The last thing I wanted to do is ascribe a value to an interviewee’s understanding of their own culture based on a perception I had from a two to three minute interview. As much as I would wish it to be true, the sad fact is that I’m not Peruvian. I have no authority to judge their culture,” said Iyer in her presentation.

Three weeks into her research, she discovered a more quantifiable way of looking at culture. She realized how descriptions of legends, local history and surrounding sites contributed to demonstrate individuals’ cultural awareness after visiting Raqchi, a relatively remote site close to the Bolivian border.

She spoke about legends’ varying on three major counts: in terms of the agency and speaker, the treatment of the Spanish Conquest and localized themes. Iyer said she felt that these elements helped distinguish the legends and ground them to site they were closest to.

In her presentation, Iyer outlined legends from the Senor de Tetecaca site in Cusco, the Ollantaytambo site and Machu Picchu. She read portions of the legends for the audience.

Her presentation and research paper drew from 165 interviews – a sample size of around 300 individuals – of street vendors, local guides, Ministry of Culture officials and artisans.

She said, “[At first] people didn’t really want to talk to me, because I was 17 years old, I was from the U.S., and I was asking [interviewees] to tell me what they truly thought about the government. I actually mostly told people I was from Lima.”

Iyer also maintained a blog at, where she recorded daily fieldnotes, interviews and photos.

Iyer’s presentation was followed by a performance by the Andean musical group Inca Son which Iyer felt paralleled her presentation.

“I thought there was an interesting parallel, because I started off my presentation by talking about what people might think before going to Peru, and the Inca Son talked about what they thought before coming to U.S..”

Iyer was first motivated to pursue her project when she went to Peru in 2010 as a field school student.

Iyer said, “Being there as a student of archaeology gave me a lens into way groups [of tourists] moved around. They would come in, rolling in from their tour buses, drink their bottled water, pass by the vendors and then leave, but we [the archaeology students] would be at the site day after day.”

Students also contemplated issues raised by Iyer’s presentation, although they also felt Iyer illuminated Peru’s tourism system well.

Mark Meyer ’13 said, “Apsara shed a new light on the destructive nature that mass tourism brings to foreign economies. Not to mention, the Andean band was a nice touch.”

Lauren Monteith ’14 said, “I attended Apsara’s presentation to learn more about the distinctions that separate resident from visitor. I found the slides of protest posters both upsetting and heartening. Upsetting because the Peruvian people felt they were being taken advantage of by tourists and developers; heartening that their voices reached even us in Andover.’

Iyer was the second of four CAMD scholars to present her research this year as part of the CAMD Scholars program. Iyer is the News Director for The Phillipian.

Connie Cheng ’13 contributed to reporting.