Huari represents one of the few civilizations that were actually lost from historic records only to be rediscovered by archaeologists centuries later. Since its rediscovery in the 1940s, it has become almost synonymous with the era known as the Middle Horizon (AD 550-900), though deep excavations at several large sites suggest the civilization has roots as early as about AD 400. From its home in the central highlands of Peru, Huari spread out to control an empire that spanned two thirds of the Peruvian Andes, stretching from the Moquegua Valley in the south to the Cajamarca Valley in the north.
Max Uhle found remnants of the Huari civilization in his studies of Andean archaeology at the turn of the 20th century. The ceramic materials bore designs similar to those found on the stone carvings at the site of Tiwanaku. Hence, Huari materials were initially classified as “Coast Tiahuanaco.” Through a series of discoveries, excavations, and publications in the late 1940s and 1950s, archaeologists came to recognize two separate prehistoric states: Huari to the north and Tiwanaku to the south.
The capital site of the Huari Empire may represent the first truly urban setting in South America. The core of the site, located near Ayacucho, Peru, contains approximately 400 hectares of dense architectural remains and refuse, surrounded by a less dense periphery. Walls of cut masonry, rubble, and rounded cobbles may have stood as high as four stories in some places. Buildings were organized as interconnecting sets of narrow rooms, surrounding open plazas that created an overall pattern of large, square cells. Interspersed with the square architecture are specialized and religious structures consisting of platforms, large D-shaped buildings (10 m diameter), and large stone slab tombs. Canals may have been used to supply the site with water.
The city of Huari does not exhibit signs of urban planning, but associated settlements in other areas show intense organization. At sites such as Pikillacta, Jargampata, and Viracochapampa, the Huari used units of square plazas, narrow rooms, and platform mounds to create large repeating units that could be used for residential, administrative, ritual, and storage purposes, depending on the specific organization of the individual units. These compounds often reached several hundred meters on a side. It is likely that these installations were connected by roads, some of which were later used by the Inca.
Huari culture arose from a blending of low sierra (Nasca) and high sierra (Pukara) traditions. Economically, Huari depended largely on dry farming of corn, with probable additions of other Andean staples, such as potato and quinoa. Huari domination of other areas was probably intended to extract agricultural surplus and control trade in rare materials, such as shell and salt. Specialization can be recognized at sites like Conchopata, which seems to have served as a ceramic production and ritual center. Well-defined and distinctive ceramic styles provide a tight chronology for Huari sites in its core territory near Ayacucho. Huari militarism, statecraft, and engineering are thought to represent antecedents of the later Inca Empire.
- Isbell, W. H., & McEwan, G. F. (Eds.). (1991). Huari administrative structure: Prehistoric monumental architecture and state government. Washington DC: Dumbarton Oaks.
- Schreiber, K. J. (1992). Wari imperialism in Middle Horizon Peru. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Museum of Anthropology.