Excavations at Yuthu A community study of an early village in Cusco, Peru (400-100 BC)

Allison Renee Davis
Dept. of Anthropology, University of Michigan
July, 2010


Cusco, Peru is best known as the capital of the Inka Empire (AD 1300-1600). While Inka archaeology has been the focus of extensive research, very little is known about the people who lived in Cusco before the Inka. This project is the first systematic excavation in the region focused on the Formative period (400-100 BC). Because so little is known about villages from this time, this dissertation approaches the study of a single community in a holistic way, examining subsistence practices, craft production, and ritual activities. Using data that I collected from the site of Yuthu during three seasons of excavation (2005-2007), 1 have found that these early villagers utilized more than one ecological zone to meet their subsistence needs. On the high plain surrounding the village, they farmed quinoa and herded llamas and alpacas, and they probably cultivated maize in the warmer Sacred Valley located day walk from the village. Through excavation of households, I have found evidence for myriad daily activities (such as cooking, fuel collecting, and cranial modification) as well as periodic activities (such as pottery making and weaving). In addition, a sunken court, ritual canals, and human burials were found in a sector that was used for ceremonial activities during the early occupation of Yuthu. Based on this ritual structure and the activities carried out within it, I argue that early villagers understood group identity above the level of the household in terms of relationships with the living features of the landscape. Later, mummy-focused rituals shifted the focal point of ceremonial activities from the group level to factions within the village, most likely lineages. The structure in the ceremonial center was eventually abandoned while mummy veneration continued. For some time, however, large group ritual and lineage-focused ancestor veneration were two potentially conflicting practices that existed alongside each other. A ceremonial system that incorporated ancestors and the landscape played an important role in creating and maintaining community cohesion even as it became a venue for competition that may have played an important role in the emergence of inherited inequality and multi-village polities during the Formative period.