Ancestors, mountains, shrines, and settlements: Late Intermediate Period landscapes of the southern Vilcanota River Valley, Peru

Emily Marie Dean
Dept. of Anthropology, University of California, Berkeley
July, 2005


Drawing upon original archaeological survey and excavation data, as well as published historic and ethnographic resources, this thesis uses Cultural Landscape theory to examine settlement and land-use patterns in the Canas-Canchis region of southern highland Peru, paying particular attention to the Late Intermediate Period (AD 1000-1400). An Inka legend links Viracocha's journey of creation with the eruption of the volcano Kinsach'ata at Cacha. The Inkas later constructed a great temple here which served as a way-stop on the annual religious pilgrimage connecting Cuzco with Lake Titicaca. Archaeological and ethnohistoric evidence suggests that the pre-Inks peoples of the region also regarded Kinsach'ata as a special place. My dissertation addresses how the Late Intermediate Period populations of the southern Vilcanota River Valley incorporated important places such as Kinsach'ata into their ritual and daily lives. I begin by discussing cultural landscape theory in archaeology, arguing for its applicability to the Andes and suggesting how it could add to current interpretations of the Late Intermediate Period. The next few chapters introduce the contemporary and historic landscapes of the southern Vilcanota River Valley, looking at the way the past is embodied in the present landscape. After summarizing previous archaeological work in the region, I present my own research. Survey data delineates settlement distribution patterns from the Archaic through Colonial periods, demonstrating an increase in sites and a movement into high altitude zones during the Late Intermediate Period. Macrobotanical, ceramic, osteological, and other data obtained from excavations at three Late Intermediate Period sites paints a picture of daily life during this time period and indicates the close relationship that existed between the communities of the living and the dead. In my final chapter I discuss Late Intermediate Period cultural landscapes, examining the interrelationship of sites, topographic features, burials, and shrines. I argue that warfare and a need for defensible locations are inadequate on their own to explain the shift to high altitude locations in this region. Beyond functional explanations, such as movement towards increasingly pastoral economies, the hilltop locations of these sites may be invoking perceived ties between the mountains, the ancestors, origin places, and fertility.