South American Archaeological Collection

The Department of Anthropology began its active participation in the study of South American archaeology in 1892 with Adolph Bandelier's expedition to Peru and Bolivia, under the patronage of Henry Villard. A large portion of the Museum's collections from Peru were acquired as a direct result of Bandelier's expedition between 1892-1903 and provided for many years of research in the Museum's laboratories before active fieldwork in Peru was again undertaken. Among Bandelier's Peruvian collections are those from the coastal archaeological sites of Pachacamac, Surco, Ancon, San Isidro de Sayan, and the altiplano site of Sillustani; among his Bolivian collections are those from several sites on the Islands of Titicaca and Koati, and the altiplano sites of Tiwanaku, Kokani, Sicasica, Chichillani, Cachilaya, and Charassani.

In 1930 the Museum sent Ronald L. Olson to carry out a general archaeological survey of Peru, Bolivia, and Ecuador - an expedition sponsored by Myron I. Granger. Olson acquired a collection of artifacts mainly from the South coast of Peru, and especially from the Valley of Nazca.

In 1932 Wendell C. Bennett carried out systematic excavations at the site of Tiwanaku in Bolivia and brought back a large collection of potsherds and other artifacts from the site. The same year, Bennett also made excavations in the Maracay area of Venezuela, represented by a sizable collection of artifacts from the site of La Mata.

In 1934 W. Bennett and Junius Bird carried out excavations in the Cochabamba and southern Lake Titicaca areas of Bolivia, bringing back collections from the sites of Chiripa, Arani, and Lukurmata, among others. Bennett's next Museum expedition, in 1936, involved survey and excavations in the Virú, Moche, Chicama, and Lambayeque Valleys, as well as a general survey of the Pativilca, Huarmey, and Nepeña Valleys of the northern coast of Peru. Artifacts from his excavations in the Virú and Lambayeque Valleys constitute the most substantial portion of the collections from this expedition. Bennett's last expedition for the AMNH was to the northern highlands of Peru in 1938, where he carried out survey and excavations in the Callejón de Huaylas (at Wilkawain and other sites), and excavations at the site of Chavín de Huántar, bringing back a representative collection of artifacts to the Museum.

Huaca Prieta, Chicama Valley, Peru
Elvira Sanchez, Junius Bird, Bob Bird, and Margaret (Peggy) Bird sorting material from sifters at Huaca Prieta, 1946-1947. Photograph by John Collier.
Huaca Prieta, Chicama Valley, Peru
Junius Bird examining textile, botanical, and cordage specimens at Huaca Prieta, 1946-1947. Photograph by John Collier.

Junius Bird's contribution to South American archaeology began with his 1932-33 expedition to Tierra del Fuego, southern Chile, where he surveyed the north shore of Navarino Island and excavated at the site of Puerto Pescado. He continued his south Chile research in 1934-1937, surveying archaeological sites in the Western Channels and excavating along the north shore of the Straits of Magellan at Palli Aike and Fell's Cave. At these two early cave sites, Bird discovered human artifacts in clear association with bones of extinct horses and sloths, establishing the presence of human populations in South America at around 9000 B.C. Bird's findings became an important contribution to the study of early human populations in the Americas, and the artifacts he brought back from Palli Aike and Fell's Caves are among the most important in our archaeological collections from South America.

In 1941-1942, Junius Bird embarked on another expedition for the Museum, this time to the Atacama coastal desert of northern Chile, where he excavated at various sites near Arica, Pisagua, Taltal, and Coquimbo. His work here proved as innovative as his earlier work, resulting in the creation of a long prehistoric sequence for northern Chile.

In 1946-1947, Bird continued his research with an excavation at Huaca Prieta, a late preceramic mound in the Chicama Valley on the north coast of Peru. This research defined the existence of preceramic cultures on the coast of Peru, adding the Initial Period and the Preceramic to the Peruvian chronology. It also established the role of textiles as an important medium of cultural expression in ancient Andean culture. The Huaca Prieta collection at the Museum consists of lithics, textiles, early ceramics, gourds, shell, and faunal and botanical remains. J. Bird carried out additional short-term fieldwork in South America in the 1950's and 1960's, especially a revisit to Fell's Cave in 1969-1970 to collect Carbon 14 and pollen samples as well as stone and bone artifacts.

Craig Morris (1939-2006) devoted his research to the development of complex societies in the Andes, and the implications of that development for understanding the growth of archaic states in general. Most of his work focused on the Inka Empire and involved both archaeological investigation and studies of the 16th century written record. For his studies of Inka expansion, Morris conducted two long-term field projects. The first, carried out between 1971-1982, consisted of survey and excavations in the Huánuco region of the Peruvian central highlands, and especially at the Inka administrative city of Huánuco Pampa. His second field project focused on the Chincha Kingdom of the south coast of Peru, and involved survey and excavations in the Chincha and Pisco Valleys, primarily at the sites of La Centinela and Tambo Colorado. The Anthropology Department houses the archives of Morris' work,represented by fieldnotes, maps and photos of several sites he has surveyed and excavated.

Additional Resources: Victoria de la Jara Collection (1962-1993)