Archaeology in the South American country of Peru has an extensive history that has uncovered the development of the largest native state to evolve in the Western Hemisphere, the Inca. The material representations of the Inca include monumental architecture, and ceramics and metallurgy craftwork from nearly a dozen separate and distinct cultures, each with their own history in half a dozen countries, all of which eventually came to be ruled by the Inca.
To uncover the prehistoric development of Peru, extensive cultural and archaeological research has been undertaken. The father of archaeology in South America is Max Uhle. Uhle has more time and research devoted to South American archaeology than any of his counterparts and was the first archaeologist to embark on significant excavations in Peru. Contributions by other pioneering archaeologists like John H. Rowe, Walter Alva, and Julio Tello have helped to decipher the chronology of the region. They have also contributed to a prevailing attitude of cultural pride and patrimony, which has further enabled the exploration and interpretation of the rich history of Peruvian culture. This movement has led to native peoples’ retention and retrieval of many of the collected artifacts. Today there is an international moratorium on the sale of pre-Columbia art that, if violated, can include incarceration and financial penalties.
Despite the renowned accomplishments of the Incas, they were not the first complex civilization of the region as their creation myth suggests. For example, on the shores of Lake Titicaca, the Tiwanaku culture flourished before the Inca found their capital in ruins. An obvious predecessor in specialized craft-work, Tiwanaku was home to monumental stelae or carved stone. Pachacamac at the mouth of the Rio Lurin and Chan, and the Chimor capital at the mouth of the Rio Moche, were also great cities the Incas could not claim. However, they all have cultural beginnings that reach back to the initial peopling of the continent. The oldest archaeological site in the region is Monte Verde. It is dated to 12,500 RC (14,800 BP). However, these dates are highly contested. If they are correct it would mean the human occupation of South America is pre-Clovis. There are more than a dozen dates from this site and evidence of a successful hunter-gatherer lifestyle. Though Monte Verde is not fully accepted by the scientific community, there is a well-established chronology for development after the initial inhabitation of the continent.
Lithic Period: 10,500 B.C.-3500 B.C.
The Lithic Period (10,500-3500 B.C.) is characterized by hunting and gathering in the highlands and fishing on the coast. Sea levels had stabilized at this point and climatic conditions were similar to the present. Four distinct traditions typified the life-ways of Peru’s inhabitants and their material developments.
The Northwest Tradition extended south to the Rio Piura and Chira. Rock was scarce in the region, so bone was used to make fishing implements. Some stone tools, such as axes, were found at the site of Las Vegas, where there is evidence of long-term settlement. The site had more than 30 camps and a trash midden that was 1 meter deep. The midden was later used as a cemetery and contained 192 secondary burials. Use of land animals, such as deer, is apparent, as is the evidence for bottle gourd cultivation. Las Vegas is 3 kilometers from the coast, but fish and mangrove mollusks from the sea have been found there.
The Paijan Tradition stretched along the coast from Rio Omo and Santa, and was defined by long, slender projectile points, which were likely mounted on the hollow shafts of cultivated reeds and used as fishing spears. More than 4,500 artifacts were recovered from La Cumbre located on the north side of the Moche valley. This site included the typical foliate bifaced projectile points and side scrapers that were notched or denticulated.
The Central Andean Tradition persisted from the region of the Rio Santa to Chile and Argentina. It consisted of adaptations to deal with the diversity of the puna, the sierra and the coast. Sites of this tradition often contain willow-shaped projectile points. Pachamachay Cave, which is located 10 kilometers from Lake Junin, at an elevation of 4,300 miles above sea level, has a faunal assemblage that is 97% camelids, likely vicuna. Vicunas are the wild ancestors of llama. This site included two phases. The first phase consisted of mobile hunter-gatherers and the second phase showed evidence of a longer, year-round occupation.
The Atacama-Maritime Tradition consisted of coastal fisher-folk with some leaf-shaped projectile points and stubby harpoon points. The south coast Ring site, located near the Rio Moquegua, shows evidence of year-round occupation. It contained a central plaza with a midden of shellfish that is 2 meters deep. Farther south, skeletal remains were recovered at the Asia site. Chemical analysis of these remains indicated a diet of 90% seafood.
The Chinchirro mummies are also found in this region. Dating from 8000 BP-3600 BP, 250 mummies in a life-like state of preservation were recovered. Removing the skin to reinforce the joints with reeds and fill the bodily cavities with grasses and wool created the Chinchirro mummies. Then the skin was replaced and sewn together. The mummy was fitted with a clay-modeled facemask and a wig. There is evidence, by way of repairs to parts of outer wrappings, that mummies were taken out and paraded during special ceremonies. Ancestor veneration is believed to be important during this time.
Preceramic Period: 3500 B.C.-1800 B.C.
Following the Lithic Period, Peruvian culture ventured into organized labor and agricultural development. The Preceramic Period (3500 B.C.-1800 B.C.) was characterized by increased sedentism, monument building and the tending of cultigens, especially industrial botanicals. There are four building traditions found in this period.
Complexes constructed in the Plaza Hundida Tradition had sunken courts that were large, flat-bottomed pits lined with masonry. Stairways in and out, on opposing sides, suggest that they were employed for ritual processions. Early in the period, these sunken courts were circular in form, but evolved into rectangular construction. They were often placed in front of larger platform mounds. Sites that have this style of architecture include La Galgada, Salinas de Chao, Piedra Parada, and Caral.
The Kotosh Tradition was sometimes combined with the Plaza Hundida Tradition. The detached, one-room sanctuaries of the Kotosh Tradition were meant to accommodate a small congregation of people and were probably employed by religious leaders for private ceremonies. They contained central hearths from which burnt offerings have been recovered, and only one entrance. Many of these structures had carefully plastered floors, wall friezes, and ornamental niches, which were built into the walls. At the site of Kotosh, two of these structures flanked two large platform mounds, which reflect the dual moiety religious tradition of the region.
The Supe Tradition was responsible for the largest pre-pottery monuments located along the coast from Rio Chicama to Rio Chillion. At sites such as Huaca Prieta and El Pariso, flat-topped mounds were constructed as stages for ritual display. It is clear by their placement that large audiences attended events there. Several communities linked by religious or fictive kin organizations built some of these platform mounds. The Aspero site had 11 small mounds, two large mounds, and six major platforms. The two large mounds are called Huaca de los Idolos, where a cache of broken ceramic figurines was discovered, and Huaca de los Sacrificios, where two burials were discovered.
El Pariso is the type-site for the Paraiso Tradition with the largest pre-pottery masonry monument. Over 100,000 tons of stone had to be quarried to build nine complexes over an area of 58 hectare in the Chillion Valley. Dates from this site suggest that construction began around 200 B.C. and was continuous until 1800 B.C. At El Pariso, there were two elongated mounds that form a u-shape, with a central plaza. The central plaza had a sunken floor and was surrounded by a bench structure. There were also four circular pits with food remains that included seafood, jicima, fruits, achira, squash, and industrial cultigens.
Initial Period: 1800 B.C.-600 B.C.
The Initial Period (1800-600 B.C.) was characterized by an increase in monument building, settlement, farming and canal building for irrigation. On the coast, the Pariso Tradition of u-shaped monuments continued with an initial increase in the size of the constructions. However, around 900 B.C., a drought caused many of the coastal sites to be abandoned. The dual moiety organizations of Pacha Mama and Father Apus seems to heighten the importance of familial ties at this time.
Monument construction also increased in the highlands, although the ceremonial centers were on a much smaller scale. The domestication of camelids allowed the higher elevations of the Andes to be occupied, and herding replaced hunting. This period marked the beginning of production for utilitarian and painted ceramics.
Early Horizon: 600 B.C.-200 B.C.
The Early Horizon (600 B.C.-200 B.C.) was dominated by development at Chavin de Huantar and the Yaya-mama culture of the Lake Titicaca region. The Chavin site began around 800 B.C. and consisted of a large residential area located at an elevation of 3,177 meters above sea level, at the confluence of the Mosna and Wacheska streams. From 500 to 400 B.C. the prosperity of the city allowed the population of Chavin to double. It doubled again from 400 to 200 B.C., and consisted of up to 3,000 residents.
Chavin had far-reaching influence evident by the spread of iconography of anthropomorphic animals, which smiled and snarled, as well as dual staff god motifs. Other accomplishments during the florescence of Chavin included the innovation of heddle-weaving textiles of cotton and wool, as well as tie-dye and batik designs. Metallurgy was revolutionized at Chavin when gold was alloyed with copper and silver. The strength of this metal allowed for three-dimensional sculptures. This practice excelled in northern Peru.
From 400 to 200 B.C. there was a drought, and evidence suggests that people who lived closer to the ceremonial centers suffered less and ate better. This caused a separation of the social classes and the kuraka elites began to emerge. This is also evident from elaborate burials found on the coast and dated to this horizon.
Early Intermediate Period: 200 B.C.-600 A.D.
The Early Intermediate Period (200 B.C.-600 A.D.) is characterized by developments in farming and herding, as well as the rise of the politically complex culture of the Moche. Fortified villages emerged, and ceremonial centers outnumbered residential areas. The kuraka elites controlled governance and claimed special descent from founding figures. This system required extensive ancestor veneration practices.
Gallinazo pottery marked the beginning of this period and gave rise to the Moche styles.
During this period, the Moche practiced central governance from the capital of Cerro Blanco. Two enormous platform mounds were erected 500 meters apart. Huaca de la Luna and Huaca del Sol contained very rich burials. Residential and special craft production buildings were constructed between the monuments. Moche life is well depicted in their polychrome and variously molded pottery styles. Stirrup spout portrait pottery vessels are so numerous that full storerooms in Peruvian museums are filled with the unique examples of realistic facial replications, even of the sick and disfigured.
The richness of Moche craftsmanship is exemplified by a monument found near the village of Sipan, which is 420 meters (680 kilometers) northwest of Lima. Walter Alva was able to excavate three royal tombs here, which had not been looted. One of the burials, the Lord of Sipan, was a warrior-priest, and he was found fully clad in his formal regalia of gold, silver, and turquoise. Ceremonial knives, goblets, and pottery filled the tomb and led to a more extensive understanding of the Moche elite.
Middle Horizon: 600-1000 A.D.
The Middle Horizon (600-1000 A.D.) is characterized by the fall of the Moche and the rise of the Huari and Tiwanaku. This horizon had weather extremes of flooding and drought. El Nino patterns debilitated the Moche irrigation systems and moved massive sand dunes across many of the farming fields. The Moche capital was abandoned, and iconography at the huacas was replaced with staff god motifs. Sites that were still occupied showed evidence of a new obsession with storing food. A new strain of maize was present. There were rows of storage facilities at Pampa Grande, in the north, which became a new capital.
The cultures of the Tiwanaku and the Huari continued to evolve during this period. The site of Tiwanaku still has pieces of the elaborate gateways that were constructed there. The “Gateway of the Sun” has incised frieze decorations of the “Gateway God,” which is holding staffs of obvious Chavin influence. Tiwanaku culture appeared to be more conservative than the Moche. However, they excelled at ridge field agriculture and long distance trade. Great llama caravans moved textiles and ceramics beyond the Tiwanaku political sphere.
The Huari bordered Tiwanaku territory, but relations appeared to be peaceful. The Huari even erected a colony on top of the mountain Cerro Baul, which is in Tiwanaku’s region. The Huari excelled at terrace farming and building irrigation systems. They were able to export their political ideas, as well as their iconography, by sending materials to build irrigation systems in other communities. The Huari staff god held ears of corn for his staffs due to the extreme importance of maize agriculture at this time.
Late Intermediate Period: 1000-1476 A.D.
The Late Intermediate Period (1000-1476 A.D.) is characterized by a decline in precipitation and another drought that lasted until A.D. 1500. Pastoralism increased at this time, and desert farmers began digging sunken gardens. Continued El Nino events devastated farming communities and contributed to a population decline. The beginning of the Inca culture is seen in the Killke culture of the northwest Cuzco Basin and in the Lucre culture of the southwest. The spread of corporate style ceramics from these regions is evidence of Inca hegemony starting to flourish.
The central and north sierra populations tried to resist Inca control. However, on the central and south coast, the Ichma allied with the Inca to defeat the Chimor. The Chimor capital of Chan Chan controlled 1,000 kilometers of coastal territory and aggressively contested Inca encroachment.
Late Horizon: 1476-1532 A.D.
The Late Horizon (1476-1532 A.D.) began with the rise of the Inca and ended with the arrival of Francisco Pizarro and his conquistadors in 1532. Before the Spanish arrived, the Inca had successfully controlled most of the region with statecraft unrivaled in South American history. The Inca only consisted of approximately 40,000 elites, but they conquered and controlled regions of the Peruvian Andes and Pacific coast for over 5,500 kilometers.
The Inca organized a cargo system, and annual ritual events were held. Ancestor veneration continued as the central religious organization. This incorporated a list of revered deities to be worshipped, such as Inti, the sun god.
The Inca instated a three-way tax system to control the people of the region. They employed mit’a labor, or labor tax to continually erect and repair their monuments. On the agricultural front, they allotted farming families three separate plots of land to be tended, one each for the gods, the government, and family. Inca subjects were also made to pay tribute with fine textiles. Colors and decorations on textiles denoted their origins. Considered the navel of the universe, 40,000 people populated the capital city of Cuzco, but over 200,000 people lived outside of the city and supported it with their labor and taxes.
The region from Ecuador to Chile was known as Tahuantinsuyu to the Inca, or the Land of Four Quarters. Unfortunately, when Francisco Pizarro and the Spanish arrived in 1532, the Inca world was already in a state of upheaval. Millions of Inca and their subjects had succumbed to Old World diseases, especially smallpox. The death of the last Pre-Hispanic Inca emperor, Wayna Capac, had initiated a quarrel over the rightful inheritance of his position, and a civil war between Tumibamba, in the north, and Cuzco was under way. Medical historians have traced the first appearance of smallpox in the New World to Mexico in 1520. The disease traveled faster than the conquistadors that carried it.
This was the main contributing factor to Pizarro’s victory. Despite the fact that he commanded only a few hundred men, he was able to dominate the Inca in very little time. Pizarro and his conquistadors kidnapped, ransomed, and finally murdered Atahualpa, one of the rulers that claimed kingship. This enflamed the Tumibamba-Cuzco civil war, and temporarily allied the Spanish with the Tumibamba.
Metallurgy, the extraction and mixing of natural metal ores, was so well-developed in the Inca state that when the Spanish reached Cuzco, conquistadors recording the events were in disbelief at the magnitude of riches, gold, silver, and precious stone that were encountered. Cuzco was said to be the home of the Inca sun god, Inti. The elaborate rooms of gold with rows of metallic maize, llamas, and shepards dedicated to Inti were so incredible that the conquistadors believed their homeland would think their accounts false. The riches that were taken after Cuzco was captured allowed for more conquistadors to come to Peru. Imported plants and animals brought diseases and took land from native resources. The degradation of the native people, land, and animals ensued.
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