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New Book by Museum Anthropologist Explores Ancient City of Festivals

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Located high up in the Andes Mountains of Peru, the now-deserted Inka city of Huánuco Pampa was a place of festivals, attracting tens of thousands of visitors from the surrounding area. Only a few hundred people lived in the city year-round, working to prepare the massive complex for religious and political social functions. This unique urban center is explored in a book recently released as a volume of the Anthropological Papers of the American Museum of Natural History.

The Huánuco Pampa Archaeological Project Volume I: The Plaza and the Palace Complex, also available from the Museum as a free e-book, is written by the late Craig Morris, a former curator of South American archaeology and dean of science at the American Museum of Natural History, and his colleagues, R. Alan Covey, an associate professor of anthropology at Dartmouth College, and archaeologist Pat Stein. It is the first of a series of publications presenting data from the Huánuco Pampa excavations that Morris led during the 1970s and 1980s. This work, which included excavating more than 300 of the site’s almost 4,000 buildings, produced discoveries that transformed understanding of Inka urban life.

Prior to the arrival of the first Europeans, the Inka Empire consolidated its control over the region—all of the highland and coastal area of what is now Peru, highland Ecuador and Bolivia, Chile to the north of Santiago, and much of northwest Argentina—establishing a highway that linked outlying provinces with the capital at Cuzco. Scattered along the highway were cities like Huánuco Pampa, which was built in the late 1400s and abandoned when Spanish conquerors arrived in the 1530s. By mapping and excavating the remains of the city, Morris and his colleagues revealed unique patterns of urban life that served Inka imperialism.

The archaeologists’ work shows that Huánuco Pampa did not have a well-defined urban grid, a regular drainage or sewer system, or large-scale infrastructure for supplying water on a regular basis. In addition, although the city was large, with monumental architecture, human remains were rarely found in excavations. These findings tell the story of Huánuco Pampa as an administrative center for large numbers of local people who would congregate in the city for administrative tasks, religious events, or festivals.

For more information, see the Museum press release.