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A Wari figurine of a warrior with a spear and shield found at Pikillaqta.

Elaborate Wari Offerings Found At Pikillaqta Ritual Site [New Find]

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Sometime around 1100 AD, Pikillaqta, a major feasting and ceremonial site located near Cusco, Peru , was abandoned by the Wari people. The reason behind their sudden departure is uncertain, but the recent discovery of elaborate figurines in ritual Wari offerings may help explain some of the story.

Recent Excavations and Findings at Pikillaqta

El Comercio reports that in January of this year, Peruvian archaeologists set out to excavate the southeast corner of Pikillaqta’s main plaza. In one of their 15 locations of interest they dug a hole 70 cm (27.56 inches) in diameter and two meters (6.56 ft.) deep. First, they unearthed  two camelid bones that had been burned, eight spondylus shells , and two silver sheets that had been created with a hatched pattern.

Spondylus shells and a small silver sheet included in the Wari offering. (Andina)

Spondylus shells and a small silver sheet included in the Wari offering. ( Andina)

Intrigued, they dug deeper and found an even more interesting circular ceremonial offering that was separated in half with a silver sheet measuring 73 cm (28.74 inches) long and 18 cm (7.09 inches) wide that was held up by a bar.

Finding the second set of offerings at Pikillaqta. (DDC Cusco)

Finding the second set of offerings at Pikillaqta. ( DDC Cusco )

According to Andina, the archaeologists discovered six small, copper-plated cast idols – two pumas, two warriors, and two zoomorphic figures - that were split in two groups. 24 silver plated figurines of female warriors, three anthropomorphic figures, and 107 pieces representing human body parts such as arms, legs, heads, and torsos, carved in spondylus shells were also found, amongst some other offerings.

Zoomorphic figurine. (Ministerio de Cultura de Perú)

Zoomorphic figurine. (Ministerio de Cultura de Perú )

The figure of a Wari warrior with a spear and shield. (DDC Cusco)

The figure of a Wari warrior with a spear and shield. ( DDC Cusco )

One of the puma figurines. (DDC Cusco)

One of the puma figurines. ( DDC Cusco )

Zoomorphic, puma, and warrior figures with a spondylus shell in front of the bar. (DDC Cusco)

Zoomorphic, puma, and warrior figures with a spondylus shell in front of the bar. ( DDC Cusco )

Reflecting on the find, the Minister of Culture, Rogers Valencia, said, “This is an extraordinary discovery by our researchers as it allows us to explore new aspects of the Wari culture and it reveals a high degree of trade and cultural integration in ancient Peru.”

The Minister of Culture calls the find an “extraordinary discovery.” (DDC Cusco)

The Minister of Culture calls the find an “extraordinary discovery.” ( DDC Cusco )

The Wari Culture

The Wari (Huari) culture is widely believed to be Peru’s oldest empire and their Andean capital named Huari has been called one of the ancient world’s great cities. Their civilization flourished from roughly 600 to 1000 AD and though there are no written records telling their story, a wealth of knowledge has been accumulated thanks to their numerous archaeological sites. In fact, thousands of archaeological sites have been linked to the Wari.

This culture has been recognized for their urban planning, especially their “ advanced water conservation system that captured mountain water during the rainy season via canals.” Those canals moved water to springs further down the mountain – which ensured that rivers would continue to flow during the dry season. The Wari canals were so well-planned that modern Peruvians looked to their ancestors when they face water shortages as well.

The Wari terraced field technology and road network was also well-made and it served the Inca empire when it began to expand centuries later.

A common misperception about the Wari is that they had a strong and centralized economic, political, cultural and military control – like their Inca successors – over most of the populations living across the central Andes. However, it seems that trade and semi-autonomous colonies, rather than conquest, enabled the Wari to flourish. Even when they were at their height of power, it seems that they were never able to completely control their colonies. But trade was one way to keep the colonies united. And instead of just fighting to maintain control, the Wari set up administrative centers with a complex socio-political hierarchy across their domain.

The warrior bearing a spear and shield. (DDC Cusco)

The warrior bearing a spear and shield. ( DDC Cusco )

The Pikillaqta Site

Pikillaqta Archaeological Park is one of the best-known and most well-preserved Pre-Inca cities in Peru. The Wari culture developed the site between 600 and 1000 AD, however for some reason they never finished building there.

The site probably served for large feasting events, administrative tasks, and for religious or ceremonial events. The large plaza was the main meeting location for ritual events which likely included the drinking of chicha (a fermented drink which the Wari likely made from maize, a key agricultural product at Pikillaqta). 18 niched buildings, which have been looted, are believed to have been used for ritual or religious purposes as well.

Wari art often shows a ceremonial pole at the center of such niched halls along with offerings, pumas, and plants. It’s interesting to note that several of these elements were present in the recently unearthed offerings; perhaps they are related?

The excavations in the southeast corner of Pikillaqta’s main plaza. (DDC Cusco)

The excavations in the southeast corner of Pikillaqta’s main plaza. ( DDC Cusco )

The site was also used for reconnecting with ancestors. Two wall tombs and one room containing skeletal remains have been found at Pikillaqta. 10 skulls were found in an offering pit in one of the niched halls and mummies may have been held in conjoined rooms of one of the small buildings. Archaeologists think the Wari probably tried to maintain regular contact with their deceased, so the latter would look after or watch over them. Unfortunately, it seems that looters got to the site before archaeologists and many of the sacred buildings and some of the graves appear to have been ransacked.

Abandoning Pikillaqta and How the Offerings May Tie in

Pikillaqta was unexpectedly abandoned around 1100 AD and there was a fire at the site soon after. Archaeologists are uncertain why the Wari left the feasting site that was only partially built, however there have been suggestions that it may have been due to some crisis in their empire or that they had left the site with plans to develop another region and then return. Archaeological evidence shows that the Wari may have sealed up the site to try to protect it before they left.

Completely carbonized beams and burning on the underside of floors demonstrates that the fire was most likely deliberate and it has been proposed that local people may have burned the Wari site. With these factors in mind, it makes you wonder if the recently uncovered Wari offerings may have been placed in the central plaza shortly before they left in an attempt to ritually protect the site in their absence.

Some of the Wari offerings found at Pikillaqta: figurines of pumas, zoomorphic figures, and warriors were found along with spondylus shells and a silver sheet. (DDC Cusco)

Some of the Wari offerings found at Pikillaqta: figurines of pumas, zoomorphic figures, and warriors were found along with spondylus shells and a silver sheet. ( DDC Cusco )

Warrior with a club. (Ministerio de Cultura de Perú)

Warrior with a club. ( Ministerio de Cultura de Perú )

24 silver coated figurines were found representing female warriors. (Ministerio de Cultura de Perú)

24 silver coated figurines were found representing female warriors. ( Ministerio de Cultura de Perú )

Now that the Wari offerings have been excavated, Valencia explained that “The next step is to bring the metal pieces to the Brüning Museum's laboratory specializing in metallurgical works —based in Lambayeque region— and, then, take them back to Cusco for public display.”

Top Image: A Wari figurine of a warrior with a spear and shield found at Pikillaqta.         Source: J. Sequeiros/Correo

By Alicia McDermott

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