It would be understandable if Ruth Shady felt a sense of ownership over the ruins of a 5,000-year-old civilization in Peru: The archaeological discovered the site in 1994. But she says, "The owner of the land is the Peruvian state." And she's sure the squatters at the city of Caral don't own it. So after the place was breached nine times during the pandemic, the Guardian reports, Shady asked the government to step in. Then she began receiving threats. "They called the site's lawyer and said if he continued to protect me they would kill him, along with me, and bury us five metres below the ground," Shady said. "Then they killed our dog as a warning. They poisoned her." The site is now patrolled 24/7 by a police car, but no effort has been made to evict the squatters.
Damage has been done to the World Heritage Site, which was built before the Egyptian pyramids and 4,000 years before the rise of the Incan Empire, per Discover. In July, squatters used heavy equipment to take down adobe walls. They also destroyed ancient ceramics and tombs holding mummies. The squatters, who may belong to one extended family, said they're entitled to do what they want because they were given the land by the government in the 1970s. That's not true, Shady says: "They do not have a single land title." Shady's worried about the toll. "We can’t allow archaeological sites to continue being invaded and destroyed, because it is an unwritten history and we recover that history through our investigation," she said. "If we can’t do that it is like burning a book which no one will ever read." (Read more archaeology stories.)