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Pikillacta: The Wari Empire in Cuzco

Pikillacta: The Wari Empire in Cuzco

by Gordon F. McEwan

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His book not only substantively contributes to our understanding of when and exactly how and why Pikillacta was built and what it was used for, it also illuminates the political and cultural antecedents of the Inca state.


His book not only substantively contributes to our understanding of when and exactly how and why Pikillacta was built and what it was used for, it also illuminates the political and cultural antecedents of the Inca state.

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"From pyramids to temples to llactas, the ancient landscape shared a desire by the living to preserve the dead. In turn, McEwan and a team of experts bring a keenly honest assessment of how the Wari dead preserved the living—a new perspective on Andean archaeology that scholars must address. With thousands of laborers and tons of building material, the Wari made Pikillacta into a factory of mummification and a center of political allegiance legitimized by these powerful, yet dead, inhabitants. A magisterial reference for Andean researchers."—Patricia J. Knobloch, author of the website Who Was Who in the Middle Horizon Andean Prehistory

"Pikillacta is the largest and grandest of all Wari regional centers, and McEwan's volume brings it to its rightful place of prominence in the archaeological literature. McEwan and his associates combine multiple lines of evidence to paint a vibrant portrait of this imperial occupation in its many guises. Archaeologists concerned with ancient empires will strive to emulate the research presented here."—Katharina Schreiber, author of Wari Imperialism in Middle Horizon Peru

"Andeanists have been long awaiting the compilation of the Pikillacta investigation; McEwan's book is a substantive contribution to our understanding of what the Wari state was and how it manipulated subject societies. A major contribution to the field of Wari research in particular and to Andean studies in the broader context, this book is also a substantial contribution to any understanding of how empires worldwide are built and sustained. McEwan's writing style is wonderfully engaging; even though six different writers are present, the text essentially speaks with a single voice."—Alana Cordy-Collins, University of San Diego

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University of Iowa Press
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7.00(w) x 10.00(h) x 0.70(d)

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PIKILLACTA The Wari Empire in Cuzco
University of Iowa Press Copyright © 2005 University of Iowa Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-87745-931-6

Chapter One Introduction: Pikillacta and the Wari Empire


Scholars have long been interested in how, when, and where the first Andean imperial state appeared. Over the past half century research efforts have focused on the Middle Horizon time period (A.D. 540 to 900) and specifically on the remains of the Wari culture, where we find archaeological evidence for the emergence of an expansive empire. Wari style artifacts are found throughout much of what is now modern Peru. Additionally, several extensive architectural complexes have been identified as Wari imperial administrative centers. Most prominent of these are Viracochapampa near Huamachuco in the north Highlands, Honco Pampa in the north Central Highlands, Pikillacta near Cuzco in the south Highlands (and the subject of this volume), Huaro and Batán Orqo southeast of Cuzco, Cerro Baúl in the Moquegua drainage in southern Peru, Jincamocco in the southwest Highlands, and the Central Highland site of Azángaro near the presumed capital of the empire, the site of Wari in Ayacucho (fig. 1.1). These data have been interpreted by many scholars to suggest that the Wari developed the first pan-Peruvian empire.

The Wari State

The Peruvian Middle Horizon appears to have been dominated by two principal polities. One was centered in Bolivia at the archaeological site of Tiahuanaco near Lake Titicaca, and the other apparently centered at the archaeological site of Wari near the modern city of Ayacucho in Peru's Central Highlands. Wari material culture shares a number of artistic attributes with that of Tiahuanaco, and scholars initially thought that there was a single center of diffusion.

Archaeologist Max Uhle (1903) was the first to observe the similarity between the Tiahuanaco art style and artifacts from his excavations at Pachacamac, located on the Central Peruvian Coast. These finds suggested the possibility of a Tiahuanaco stylistic horizon predating the Inca Empire. This "Tiahuanaco Horizon" was further confirmed in Peru through ceramic studies by Kroeber and Strong (1924) and O'Neale and Kroeber (1930) and summarized by Bennett (1946). The Peruvian material, although sharing some iconography with the Bolivian Tiahuanaco style, was different enough to prompt Tello (1931, 1939) and Larco (1948) to theorize that there must be a Peruvian Highland center of diffusion. Both of them suggested that the center of diffusion was the large prehistoric urban complex called Wari, located near the modern city of Ayacucho in the Central Peruvian Highlands. A reconnaissance of the ruins of Wari by Rowe, Collier, and Willey (1950) and excavations by Bennett (1953) led to the general recognition that Wari was indeed the Peruvian center of diffusion of what came to be called the Wari style. In the 1960s, Menzel's (1964, 1968) studies of Wari ceramics isolated and seriated several major styles. Her work suggested that the spread of Wari influence resulted from a cultural expansion based on military conquest directed by a highly centralized authority. In subsequent work she discussed the role that religious ideology may have played in the structure and history of the Wari state (1977). The Wari ceramic sequence has been further refined by work at Wari by Lumbreras (1960a, 1960b, 1975), Benavides (1965, 1984, 1991), Pozzi-Escot (1982, 1991), and Isbell (1985, 1986, 1987; Isbell and Cook 1987) and his students Knobloch (1976, 1983, 1991) and Cook (1979, 1983, 1985, 1987, 1994). Further ceramic studies of Wari affiliated sites have been done by Paulsen (1968, 1983), Ravines (1968, 1977), Thatcher (1974, 1977), Meddens (1985), and Glowacki (1996a, 1996b, and this volume).

In addition to a stylistic horizon of ceramics and other portable artifacts, the Wari Empire has been defined by a widespread, highly uniform architectural style. Shifts in settlement patterns co-occurring with the introduction of this architectural style during the Middle Horizon have also been viewed as a diagnostic trait of the Wari Empire (Lumbreras 1974; McEwan 1979, 1983, 1984a, 1984b, 1985, 1987, 1990a, 1990b, 1991, 1992, 1996, 1998; Rowe 1963; Schaedel 1966; Schreiber 1978, 1983, 1987, 1991, 1992; Willey 1953). Changes in settlement patterns seem to suggest a reorganization of economic and social activities with an emphasis on centralized administrative control and channeling of resources. This suggests the imposition of an imperial organization (Schaedel 1966).

Beyond a widespread architectural and artistic tradition, the archaeological remains of the Wari culture seem to meet many of the criteria used in anthropological definitions of the state. These definitions commonly include concentration of economic and political power, monopoly of force, organization along political and territorial lines, and differential access to resources based on status (Adams 1966; Freid 1967; Service 1962; Wright 1977). Trigger (1974: 98-101) has noted that the distribution of varying sized settlements is likely to be significant in interpreting political organization. In complex societies the size and architectural features of some settlements are likely related to their position within an administrative hierarchy. Wright and Johnson (1975) have defined the early state in Mesopotamia using the criterion of a site-size hierarchy, which they argue would reflect a parallel hierarchy of decision making. Supporting evidence of administrative function such as cylinder seals and stamps which provide information regarding commodity exchange through the levels of hierarchy is considered necessary to confirm the administrative function of the size hierarchy. Wright (1977) has observed that states are internally specialized comprising more than one decision-making level within the centralized administrative hierarchy. Such systems entail a series of regional administrative centers and an efficient communication network for the transfer of information between levels of the administrative hierarchy.

Isbell and Schreiber (1978) have considered the Wari data in the context of these observations and have applied the Wright and Johnson (1975) site-size hierarchy model to the Wari data. They concluded that the distribution of Wari sites tends to conform to this model and thus supports the concept of a state-level political organization. They also cite evidence for a Wari highway network providing the communications link between the various sites. Specific supporting artifactual evidence for administration, such as cylinder seals found in the Middle East, or for a system of writing remains lacking however. The Andean equivalent would perhaps be the knotted cord quipu used by the Inca, and probably the Wari, for state record keeping. Unfortunately these cannot be deciphered to the same extent as the Middle Eastern data.

The Structure of the Wari Empire

The Inca imperial state is the model used most often for the reconstruction of the Wari Empire. This model seems appropriate since there are some obvious similarities. Most of the major provincial Wari sites are located along the Inca highway system, implying an earlier, similar road network in use by the Wari. In addition, the distribution of the major Wari provincial centers geographically parallels many of the late-Inca centers (W. H. Isbell 1978: 373-374). The largest of the Wari provincial centers, the subject of this study, is located in the heart of Inca territory in the valley of Cuzco and may have provided the actual point of transmission of the knowledge of statecraft to the peoples who later formed the Inca state. Finally, the Wari seem to have reorganized parts of their domain for economic purposes in ways that are strikingly similar to Inca methods (Schreiber 1987, 1992).

Using the available data and some elements of the Inca model, William Isbell has formulated a theory of the Wari expansion. He argues for the development of a centralized hierarchical system growing out of hydraulic management requirements in Ayacucho. This system is seen as utilizing a fictitious reciprocal relationship between the citizen and state in order to extract labor revenue (W. H. Isbell and Cook 1987: 90). He also postulates the development of state energy-averaging institutions, including state-sponsored storage and the exploitation of contrastive eco-niches (W. H. Isbell 1978). Selective advantages were thus conferred on the Wari system, enabling it to respond to ecological pressures through territorial expansion. He views the widespread distribution of intrusive state architectural facilities as the archaeological evidence for this model. These facilities include the sites of Viracochapampa, Azángaro, Jincamocco, and especially Pikillacta. In Isbell's model these sites represent centers of state storage and administration. They are the major nodes in the administrative hierarchy of the empire. Schreiber (1987) has supported Isbell's formulation and the utility of the Inca model using the example of the Jincamocco site to demonstrate the argument for an imperial Wari state.

Martha Anders (1986a, 1986b, 1991) viewed the Wari polity as an empire but had a somewhat different view of state structure and the degree of centralization. She strongly argued for a decentralized religiously based empire that relied on relatively autonomous local-level lords and traditional reciprocal networks to maintain integration. Using the coastal Chimu culture as a model, she saw a dual-based authority emphasizing horizontal interdependent relationships over hierarchical ones as characteristic of the Wari imperial structure. Her model is much more strongly based on religious influence, in marked contrast to the majority of Wari scholars, who have argued for a highly secularized Wari state. Her interpretations of Wari architecture are also radically different. She believed that the large rectangular architectural complexes had a highly specialized function as calendrically based ceremonial centers.

An alternative and contrastive view of the Middle Horizon is that held by Carlos Ponce (1976: 60-61, 1980). He essentially argues that what many scholars recognize as the Wari Empire is simply a subsidiary manifestation of an all-embracing Tiahuanaco Empire. The distinctive Wari remains resulted from the partial assimilation of the Tiahuanaco elements by the well-developed conquered cultures in Peru. Alan Kolata (1983: 253) has similarly argued that Wari was a subset of the Tiahuanaco Empire, although he concedes its ultimate independence.

Yet another alternative view of the Middle Horizon holds that there were no empires. Instead it is argued that this time period was characterized by the existence of a large number of independent regional centers. Bawden and Conrad (1982: 31-32) do not believe that the existence of a conquest state centered at Wari is supported by the evidence used in other models, namely the architectural and artistic horizon. They attribute the artistic horizon to religious proselytization from Tiahuanaco. This rejection of the architectural horizon as evidence of empire is a view also held by Shady (1981, 1982: 62, 1988). However, she views the artistic unification as being the result of active trade among independent political entities. One other model of the Middle Horizon as characterized by fragmented regional autonomy is presented by Shea (1969). He suggests a model in which a series of independent oracles were linked into a loosely organized religious hierarchy possibly dominated by the Pachacamac oracle on the Central Coast.

Schreiber (1992) has produced the most comprehensive description of the Wari Empire and its form. Arguing for a "mosaic" model of imperial control, she makes a convincing case that the Wari used a multitude of methods for regional domination that varied with the local conditions that they encountered. This flexible approach could be tailored to the requirements of the region with respect to its population density, pre-existing degree of social complexity, resource base, and strategic importance.

In the past twenty years the Wari expansion has been looked at through a number of field studies of the provincial Wari centers. In the Central Highlands, near the capital of Wari, these investigations include the work of Anders (1986a, 1986b, 1991) at Azángaro, as well as work at Conchopata by William Isbell, by Cook, and by Pozzi Escot (1991) and Isbell's work at Jargampata (1977). John and Theresa Topic (1983, 1986, 1991, 1992) studied Viracochapampa in the north Highlands and William Isbell (1989, 1991b) worked at Honco Pampa, also in the north Highlands. Schreiber (1978, 1983, 1987, 1991, 1992) has investigated the site of Jincamocco in the southwest Highlands and has studied the local impact of the Wari expansion on the rural valley in which the site is located. She has also studied the Wari impact on the Nazca drainage. Meddens (1985) has also worked in the southwest Highlands at Chiqna Jota. Moseley, Feldman, Goldstein, and Watanabe (1991) and Moseley's students Williams and Nash (2002, Williams 1997, 2001) have investigated the Cerro Baúl site in the south Coastal valley of Moquegua. In addition to the new work reported here, I have previously worked for a number of years at Pikillacta in the south Highlands as well as at Wari Wilka in the Central Highlands (McEwan 1979, 1983, 1984a, 1984b, 1985, 1987, 1991, 1992, 1996).

In 1985, many of these Wari scholars gathered at Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, D.C., for a roundtable discussion cochaired by William Isbell and myself. The purpose was to air the results of recent archaeological projects investigating presumed Wari provincial centers. Although the participants held diverse points of view in terms of the theories of the Middle Horizon mentioned above, this meeting resulted in general agreement on several issues. It was generally agreed that the Wari architectural and iconographic evidence represents the remains of state-level polity that was an empire. It was also generally accepted that Wari and Tiahuanaco are two separate entities and possibly quite different in terms of political organization.

While most investigators agreed that provincial Wari centers imply some degree of expansionism, many questions remain regarding the formulation and functioning of the empire. Among these are debates regarding the degree of centralization and the amount of control that the Wari achieved in distant territories. Opinions of Wari scholars fall broadly into two groups. One group sees a powerful Wari state heavily dominating provincial areas. The other group sees Wari influence within the context of relatively independent political units. And, of course, there is the possibility that each is correct in certain instances.

Contributing to these arguments is the fact that the functions of the architecture in the imperial provincial centers, and indeed the functioning of the centers themselves, still remains difficult to interpret. We don't really know what the Wari were doing in their provincial centers. While it is assumed that these centers must have had administrative responsibilities, scholars had been unable to clearly distinguish between religious and secular architecture in provincial contexts or define specific functions for any class of structures.

The chronology and timing of the Wari expansion in provincial areas also remain problematic. The traditional view, first expressed by Menzel (1964, 1968), confining the Wari expansion to the first two epochs of the Middle Horizon, was based on data from the Wari center in Ayacucho as well as the adjacent coastal valleys. Data from the provinces is now becoming available and will occasion adjustments of the basic Wari chronology.

Finally, the nature of the relationship between Wari and Tiahuanaco remains largely unknown. Despite shared iconography, and long periods of coexistence, there is as yet only one poorly known point of cultural interface in the archaeological record, the site of Cerro Baúl in the Moquegua valley. The nature of relations between these two great Middle Horizon powers undoubtedly influenced archaeological patterning of the provincial areas between them.

In order to address some of these questions, this study of the largest and best-preserved Wari provincial center, Pikillacta, was undertaken. Excavations of architectural remains have provided a means to approach the questions of structural functions and, more broadly, the functions of the large provincial complexes as a whole. Architectural function studies also reveal the degree of centralization of the empire and shed some light on the nature of the imperial presence in the provinces.


Excerpted from PIKILLACTA Copyright © 2005 by University of Iowa Press. Excerpted by permission.
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Meet the Author

Gordon McEwan is an associate professor of anthropology at Wagner College. He has worked in Cuzco for more than twenty-five years and is the author of numerous articles and several books on the archaeology of the Wari and Inca cultures.

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