Two Warrens Researching in South America

Two Warrens Researching in South America

by, Warren W Dexter

Originally published in The Midwestern Epigraphic Journal


[Editor’s Note: In MEJ 17(1) we celebrated the distin-guished photographic career of Warren W Dexter. I worked on his writeup first because I had the privelage of visiting with him. His earlier work, however, was a team effort with out present honoree Dr Warren L Cook. Despite his ad-vanced age, Mr Dexter was thrilled to contribute this piece remembering their great trip to Ecuador and Peri in 1981. See the article in ESOP 11(2), 216-230 (1983) for Cook’s report (reprinted in this volume). Also, see WW Dexter in ESOP 20, 212-223 (1992).]


After considerable discussion and planning, Dr. Warren L. Cook and Warren W. Dexter took off from the Rutland airport in Vermont on the 13th of June 1981. We were headed for Guadaquil, Ecuador in South America, ostensibly to research an ancient artifact collection accumulated by Father Carlo Crespi and a few other sources.

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Arriving late at Guadaquil, we took a taxi to the Humboldt Hotel where we spent a short night. In the morning our breakfast was in the bar where I discovered a large 8 ft. tall phallic stone upon which were growing several orchids. Across the room was a large earthen ceramic jar in which a mummified figure was incarcerated. I thought it was inter-esting use of symbols for the beginning and the end. Thus started our research trip into the remains of the ancient cultures of Ecuador and Peru.

Because Warren Cook had lived in Ecuador and Peru for about 8 years, he spoke fluent Spanish. Cook had studied and earned his first doctorate on Indian Religions at the University of San Marcos, which was established in Lima, Peru in 1551. This makes the school older than Harvard University. Dr Cook’s linguistic skills gave him the ability to dig up many leads for our ancient cultural adventure, and after visiting the local museum in Gaudaquil we headed off for the high altitude Andes Mountains.

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After boarding a 7-passenger General Motor’s heavy-duty vehicle driven by a local Indian, we were hurtled on our way for 4 hours traveling from sea level to over 9,000 ft. up and over the top of the Andes. We finally arrived, scared and tired at Cuenca, Ecuador, a city of over 110,000 people. Our taxi driver took us to a moderately priced hotel, but it didn’t have an elevator. So at that altitude we huffed and puffed on the stairs going to and from our room.

Dr. Paul Cheesman, a historian from Brigham Young University in Utah, had informed us about his earlier contacts with Father Crespi and his colleagues. Dr. Cheesman had established several contacts that proved invaluable for us on our journey. Dr. Cheesman had photographed a special gold “Masanissa” memorial plaque dating back to 148 BC. Unfortunately this was no longer available when Warren Cook and I arrived. Dr. Cheesman did allow me to copy his slide of the plaque.

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Our first contact was to visit BANCO CENTRAL, which is responsible for all of Ecuador’s antiquities. After establishing our credentials as ancient cultural researchers we were informed about their local museum and the personal there. Going to the Cuenca branch of the Banco Central Museum, we met the director, Licenciado Rene Cardozo, archaeologist Joe Louis and several members of their staff. By promising to furnish them with copies of all the photographs I would take in the museum, I was given the freedom to take all the pictures we wanted. At the same time I had an opportunity to teach the museum staff how to photograph the artifacts, which helped them in the process of recording the museum’s inventory.

The reason for this extensive collection was that years earlier Senor Crispo, the Director of Banco Central, had arranged to purchase many of the ancient cultural artifacts from Father Carlo Crespi’s collection. Senor Crispo hired two Ecuadorian archaeologists to go through this vast collection and cull out what THEY felt was worth saving. The Catholic Church received over $433,000 for these items. It was what the archaeologists LEFT BEHIND that Dr. Warren Cook and I wished to examine.

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By the time we arrived, most of what remained of the Crespi collection had been disposed of in various ways and places, and it was up to us to play detective to locate and photograph the remaining pieces. What a trail it led us on!

First we needed to meet with Father Carlo Crespi to see what we could learn from him. It was through Dr. Cheesman’s contacts that we met Father Crespi, but we arrived too late in his life to glean anything other than his claim that “they took away all my things”, which is just what happened. As the photo shows, Father Crespi was glad to meet anyone who was interested in his collection. See the photo of Dr. Warren Cook meeting Fr. Carlo Crespi in front of the Maria Auxilliadora Church in Cuenca, Ecuador.

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(Left: Figurine Observed at the Fort Cuyambe Army Base) (Right: Figurine in Attorney Juan Cardero Collection, Cuenca, Ecuador)

Next, we went to the Banco Central Museum and with the help of Jose Louis were taken to the boys’ school established by Father Crespi behind the Maria Auxilliadora church. In some of the rooms of the school, in the attic and on some of their flat roofs were a number of artifacts from the collection we were interested in. It was here that Jose introduced us to Fr. Flores, who served as Fr. Crespi’s secretary. It was Fr. Flores who enabled Dr. Cook and me to enter the third story of the boys’ school where many choice artifacts, to our way of thinking, were located. He provided a wonderful opportunity to see and photograph the “GOLD” ZODIAC PLAQUE.

With Dr. Cook’s linguistic skills he was able to question numerous people and learn that hundreds of items from Fr. Crespi’s collection had been given away and some thrust on numerous individuals to make room in the boys’ school. This meant that Dr. Cook and I had to travel extensively throughout Ecuador.

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Fort CAYAMBE is located north of Cuenca and is one of the sites where mahy of the Crespi artifacts were located. They were not on display or even recognized for their cultural value but instead were used as wilderness trail markers. We traveled by taxi to a ZUCHAY furniture plant in southern Ecuador to see some more inscribed stones. Back in Cuenca, attorney “La Tolia” showed us many fascinating sculptured cultural ceramic artifacts. We left Cuenca going south along the spine of the Andes to LOSO at the border with Peru. This was an 18-hour bus trip, but is turned out to be a “dead end”. NO artifacts! Next, we dropped down from Cuenca to the coast at the southern end of Ecuador to another boys’ school at Machalo. Two of Fr. Crespi’s former students were now teachers there. They had retrieved several truckloads of Fr. Crespi’s artifacts.

After visiting several other collections in Cuenca, Dr Cook and I traveled north by bus to QUITO, the capital and headquarters of Banco Central. This is where an exquisite national museum is housed on the 4th floor. From Quito we bussed 10 mi. north to ATOVOLA, Ecuador where Dr. Cook located Cesar Vasques Fuller’s small HEBREW HEAD with inscribed letters. This one item made the trip well worth while. After going back to Quito we flew from the airport at 12,000 ft. south to Lima, Peru.

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Upon arriving at Lima we were inundated by tour guides, but rather than accept any of their offers Dr. Cook hailed a taxi and gave directions to a moderately priced hotel. Incidentally this hotel came with an elevator. This city was in a way “home ground” to Warren Cook, who had spent much of his academic career and earned his first Doctoral degree at San Marcos University located in Lima. We were fortunate to be able to visit his school. The next day Dr Cook hailed a taxi and we went back to the airport and employed a tour guide for a flight to Cuzco and then by train to Machu Picchu. The airport at Cuzco is at 11,200 ft. above sea level, and it is another 500 ft. up to the ancient Inca Fort called “SAQSAYHUAMAN”. Since Dr. Cook had been to Machu Picchu before and his heart was bothering him that day, he did not accompany me on this tour. Fortunately, he felt better that evening.

The next day Dr. Cook looked up Dr. Manual Chaves, an old professor from San Marcos, and his son who had an ART studio in Cuzco. Later, we returned to Lima and after overcoming the shock of an EARTHQUAKE we visited Peru’s National Archaeology and Anthropology Museum. The next day it was on to the Lima GOLD Museum, which held out attention with their beautiful exhibits.

Approaching the latter half of August, Warren Cook and I headed north, arriving at Dulles Airport, and then continued home to Vermont. We were tired but very happy with our research in South America. This excursion resulted in over 1,000 color negatives as a record of our effort [Editor’s Note: The photographs shown below are copyrighted by WW Dexter.]