General presentation of archaeology in PeruGeneral presentation of archaeology in Peru

General presentation of archaeology in Peru

What are the main archaeological periods in Peru?

Broadly speaking, we can make a basic chronology of pre-Hispanic cultures in Peru, subject of predilection for archaeologists. The first traces of humans on the Peruvian territory date back to 14 000 years, whereas 8000 years ago appeared agriculture and farming, then the first pyramids and the weaving of cotton, 5000 years ago. 

The first important period in the archaeological chronology of Peru is the period named “Pre-ceramic”. Firstly, the “premature” pre-ceramic period (temprana), between 12.000 and 5000 bf. JC; the human settlements are nomadic, they subsist with gathering and hunting, in caves they decorate with rocks paintings. During the medium pre-ceramic period, between 5000 and 3000 bf. JC, humans started to settle down, agriculture and farming appeared, the llama is domesticated. And then, during the belated pre-ceramic period, between 3000 and 1800 bf. JC, we saw appear the first urban centers, big constructions, agricultural infrastructures and ritual calendars, indicator of a social organization and religious institutions. This is the example of Caral, near to Lima.

After the apparition of ceramic, we can divide the archaeological periods in accordance with kind of relations between civilizations: cultural domination or on the contrary independence with each other. 

During the Initial time Horizon, between 1800 y 1200 bf. JC, we can see the apparition of ceramic, as well as construction of big pyramids decorated and painted, with high relief, like for example Cerro Sechin. 

During the Early Horizon, from 1200 to 200 bf. JC., the culture Chavin is expanding it with its ceramics and constructions with stones, they dominated the cultures who were surroundings them and formed a cultural relatively uniform. On the other hand, Paracas culture is developing it and it is known for its tissues.

Between 200 bf. JC and 600 af. JC, this is the Early Intermediary Horizon, the Chavin unite disintegration and the repressing of local cultures (Nazca, Mochica, Pucara…). Agricultural culture became intensive. On the coast, they built big pyramids, and the characteristic of ceramics from this period are with red and white colors. Perfect example of this period, the Huaca del Sol y de la Luna, the Huaca del brujo and Nazca lines. 

The Medium Horizon, 600 – 900 af. JC, is characterized by the expansion, the domination and the disintegration of the Huari culture. Like the other people surrounding are submitted, the same as Chavin culture, we can see appearing a certain level of homogeneity in those cultures, technics and others. The best example of this period is Pachacamac site in Lima and Tucume pyramid. 

The Latest Intermediary Horizon, between 900 – 1450, saw coming back strong regional cultures: Ica, Chimu, Chinchay, Huanca… Trade then began to develop between different cultures. The period is characterized moreover for a particular work of copper and silver. Representatives of this period, there are Chan Chan site and Kuélap. 

And finally, during the Latest Horizon which persisted from 1450 to 1532, this is the rapid development of the Inca Empire of Tahuantinsuyu, with the best examples of sites; Machu Picchu with Intihuatana (sundial) and Cusco city. 

History of Archaeology in Peru

Archaeological evidences, in the scientific meaning, systematic researches, disinterested and leading to theoretical interpretations, started casually. Two German men, Reiss and Stübel, discovered in 1875 a huge necropolis by excavating the floor to build a railway. Some years after, in 1887, they published “the Ancon’s necropolis”, with photos and illustrations of the site. Then, Stübel made some researches on the Tiahuanaco site in Bolivia and, coming back to Berlin, he initiated Max Uhle to the Andean archaeology. With Uhle arrival and others foreign Scientifics, the national interest is waking up regarding sites to discover in their own country: Julio C. Tello, Luis Guillermo Lumbreras… All along the 20th century, successive discoveries of several Scientifics let appear hundreds of ancient sites and many museums are opened to expose what they found. Also, theories are overlapping, opposing, criticizing and developing as new discoveries are made and as everyone brings his knowledge. 

Who are the main Peruvian o foreign archaeologists who have worked in Peru? 

Max Uhle is one of the precursor of archaeology in Peru and one of the first to explore and let appear exceptional archaeological finds on the Peruvian land. Born in Germany in 1856, he worked during the first half of the 20th century in Peru, thanks to the funding of several American universities. He traveled all around the country to Bolivia, to Tiahuanaco site, Chimu’s ruins in the north, Pachacamac in Lima… His intellectual and theoretical contribution is very precious for archaeological and ethnological plans. 

Julio César Tello (1880 – 1947) was a friend of Ricardo Palma, who found to him a Chief Curator at the National Library. From there, his interest for science and archaeology born, immersed in history books of his country.

Apart the number and quantity of rests, sites and objects he found, his importance in the Peruvian archaeology history come from his intellectual and nearly political position against the indigenous past of Peru. In a society that still very colonial and racist, he break with the ideas of inferiority of indigenous communities of Peru and develop the idea of the ancestral greatness of the Peruvian people.

His scientific researches allowed him to stand his theories in an objective way and no romantic or traditional, oral. This is for him the only way to understand the actual Peru. I created the archaeology and ethnology Museum of San Marcos University and stay, until now, the most famous and respected Peruvian archaeologist. 

John H. Rowe, American archaeologist, contemporary of Julio C. Tello during many years, he participated to expeditions and contributed to the renown of their researches abroad. In a personal way, he wrote a book about Max Uhle, precursor of Archaeology in Peru, entitled “A memory of the Father of Peruvian Archaeology”. 

Luis Guillermo Lumbreras is a Peruvian archaeologist born in 1936. He still teaching as a professor in several universities of Lima. His importance in the archeology area belongs to his precious contributions about theorizing archaeology in Peru, which offer new perspectives both in the discipline itself and in the object of researches.

Rafael Larco, founder of Larco Museum (his father’s name), soon discovered a passion for archaeology when his father acquired a large collection of ancient ceramics and decided to expand it by searching himself the wild lands. His is principally known to conflict with Tello’s theory about the Chavin cultural matrix during the Early Horizon period. 

Then, a multitude of archaeologists least-known are however famous for the discovery of a particular site. This is the example of Walter Alva (born in 1951), specialized in Moche culture, who discovered the Tomb of Lord of Sipan, or also Ruth Shady Solis who discovered and organized Caral site.

From France, Olivier Fabre is a doctor in Pre-Hispanic archaeology of the Sorbone (Paris) and researcher associated with the French Institute of Andean Studies (IFEA). He is a specialist of Chachapoyas archaeological culture and works since 2005 on the pre-Hispanic occupation in the caves of the north eastern slopes of Peruvian Andes. More generally, his works are about population movements and the settlement of the north western slope. He published several articles on this subject and achieved working with the Universidad Pontificia Catolica del Peru (PUCP).

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