Excavations Reveal an Inka City of Festivals main content.

Excavations Reveal an Inka City of Festivals

by AMNH on


New book from American Museum of Natural History anthropologist explores ancient city of Huánuco Pampa

Museum anthropologist Craig Morris at Huánuco Pampa (AMNH\Division of Anthropology)

More than 500 years ago, the now-desolate Inka city of Huánuco Pampa, located high up in the Andes Mountains in Peru, periodically bustled with tens of thousands of people. But despite its large palace, temples, and public halls, the city was home to only a few hundred year-round guards, administrators, and religious specialists who prepared the massive complex for religious and political festivals that attracted swells of visitors from the surrounding area. A selection of findings from one of the most ambitious archaeological excavations of this unique type of urban center are published 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.

This volume focuses on the heart of Huánuco Pampa: the three plazas where many of the public and administrative activities took place, the layout of their buildings, outbuildings, and gates, and the archaeological finds of pottery, nails, weaving implements, animal bones, and tableware. The central plaza was where the population from the surrounding territory assembled, and its platform gave the Inka rulers a clear view over processions, festivals, and religious and administrative activities. A second plaza located in the administrative palace was accessible only to individuals of higher status who had reason to interact with the Inka officials or royal visitors, while the third plaza was the least accessible to local people, though it included a preparation area for maize beer for large feasts that used the fanciest ceramics. The data in this volume are critical in reconstructing the role of such public and administrative places in the Inka Empire.

Morris, who died in 2006, was curator of South American Archaeology at the American Museum of Natural History, where he also served as senior vice president and dean of science. He was elected a member of the National Academy of Sciences in 1998. In addition to directing the Huánuco Pampa field research, Morris conducted archaeological research at the Late Horizon site of La Centinela in the Chincha Valley and the Inka way station at Tambo Colorado.

Covey is associate professor of anthropology at Dartmouth College. His Inka research focuses on the capital region in the Cuzco highlands, and he has also conducted regional survey work in the coastal desert of southern Peru.

Stein, an archaeologist, began working on the Huánuco Pampa project in 1971 as a graduate student at Brandeis University.