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Shooting The Lost Kingdoms Of South America with Jago Cooper

22nd February 2016


Rob Dover, tour leader of our Northern Peru tour, describes filming for a BBC4 series with esteemed archaeologist Dr. Jago Cooper.

During the nineteen years I have been living in Chachapoyas, northern Peru, I have been contracted to work on various television documentaries. It is often very dynamic work with a lot of running around making sure stressed-out crews have all at hand so they can concentrate on being creative. Keeping on top of permits, food, horses, transport, or finding a helicopter for aerials, even with the best worked out filming schedule, the constant changes keep you on your toes.

Filming a weaver near Kuelap.

The perks of working on documentaries are that they often take me off the usual tourist beaten track: dangling from a rope coming down a 200m high cliff; bashing through the Pacific surf in a small wooden skiff or simply being at an archaeological site in the setting sunlight. Another perk is the honour to have met and talked with the important scholars who are filmed for their expert opinion.

Unfortunately, many of these projects have my classification of Triple D TV: Dumbed Down Documentary, i.e. a presenter trying to look like Indiana Jones, filmed with constant whoops, whizzes and bangs - the end result being the programs are only watchable if you have ADHD.

This wasn't the case with the BBC series Lost Kingdoms of South America, presented by Dr Jago Cooper. The crew arrived with a PhD's worth of background information on the Chachapoyas and Chimu cultures. It is far from an easy task to have one week of filming time and to condense a culture that lasted hundreds of years into an hour-long program.

End of a day's filming: sunset at Chan Chan.

Jago brought genuine enthusiasm to the documentaries on an academic and adventurous level. Accessing a Chachapoya tomb site by abseiling 200m down a cliff face with him was one of those experiences which very few people will have and one which I won’t forget. The work with the BBC crew personally gave me further knowledge and raised questions in my mind for which I want to explore answers about the history of this fascinating part of the world.

In the show's four episodes, Jago investigates the extraordinary history of some of South America’s ancient civilizations, choosing four very different pre-Inca cultures and revealing their complexities as well as their ability to thrive in diverse environments, from the high-altitude Altiplano to deserts. Jago explores the lesser-known Chachapoya traders, the agricultural Tiwanaku on the Bolivian Altiplano, the Muisca and Tairona on the Colombian coast and finally the Chimu of the Kingdom of Chimor.

You can watch the first episode of Lost Kingdoms of South America here.


Rob Dover

Rob left his engineering position to work on an alpaca and llama farm in Ecuador in 1994. After a full year, he travelled and hiked in Peru. Deciding …

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