Field Projects

Alto Pukara

Robin Beck's dissertation work included excavation of a Middle Formative (800–400 BC) ritual platform at the site of Alto Pukara, located in Bolivia's Lake Titicaca Basin at an altitude of 3800 m. Beck's research at Alto Pukara used Lévi-Strauss' concept of the social house to understand transformations in public space during the Formative Period.

Prehistoric Human Ecology in Patagonia

Raven Garvey's project in Patagonia compares data generated by a variety of archaeological techniques (e.g., regional surface survey, excavation, artifact morphometric analyses, obsidian hydration dating and geochemical analyses) to the predictions of simple economic models to understand interactions between prehistoric humans and their environments and examine the degree to which ecological conditions constrain and influence culture.

Cerro Azul

To address the topic of "community self-sufficiency" versus "community specialization," Joyce Marcus selected Cerro Azul, a prehispanic coastal site covering 80,000 square meters, for extensive excavation and ongoing analyses.

It is generally believed that Peru's early coastal communities were self-sufficient (3000 BC), but by the Inca period (AD 1470–1530), many were specialized. On the coast such specialization included farmers who did not fish and fishermen who did not farm. The question, then, is—When did such specialization arise? Did specialized communities exist before the Inca, or was such specialization imposed by the Inca after AD 1470?

The Kingdom of Huarco, covering about 150 sq km, was one of the coastal polities eventually incorporated into the Inca Empire. That kingdom is located in the lower Cañete Valley, 130 km south of Lima, and surrounded by polities such as Chincha to the south, Mala to the north, and Lunaguaná to the east. Because Lunaguaná lay inland and Huarco was on the coast, the two polities had complementary environmental settings and exchanged several products.

The site of Cerro Azul—lying between the sea cliffs (Cerro Centinela and Cerro del Fraile) and a mountain (Cerro Camacho)—has as its most prominent features 10 buildings made of tapia, thick walls of poured mud that seem to have dried in place between wooden frames. Marcus excavated all of Structure D, a 1640-square-meter tapia compound that was the residence of an elite family and its staff. Divided into at least a dozen rooms and four patios, Structure D included living quarters, a large brewery, multiple storage rooms, unroofed work areas, and a series of doors and corridors that controlled access to the interior of the building.

A significant activity that took place in Structure D was the storage of small fish—mostly sardines and anchovies—in sand-filled rooms. Such fish, if spread out on a pavement of beach cobbles, can dry in a single day. The fish were then stored in layers of sand, which prevented the fish from touching each other, and the hygroscopic properties of the sand furthered the drying process by extracting the remaining moisture.

Marcus' work has shown that Cerro Azul specialized in fishing before the Inca arrived. Evidently noble families, each with its retinue of commoners, lived in tapia compounds surrounded by storage buildings. These families oversaw hundreds of fishermen who procured more anchovies and sardines than the community could use. These surplus fish were temporarily stored in layers in sand-filled rooms and later shipped inland via llama caravans.

Marcus' research at Cerro Azul indicates that economic specialization, at the level of "fishing village" versus "farming village," did exist before the Inca conquest, and that under the aegis of a local hereditary lord, the people of Cerro Azul were part of a larger economic system in which agricultural products and alpaca wool moved to the coast while fish moved inland.