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Cahuachi in the Ancient Nasca World

Helaine Silverman

Publication Year: 2009

Ever since its scientific discovery, the great Nasca site of Cahuachi on the south coast of the Central Andes has captured the attention of archaeologists, art historians, and the general public. Until Helaine Silverman's fieldwork, however, ancient Nasca culture was seen as an archaeological construct devoid of societal context. Silverman's long-term, multistage research as published in this volume reconstructs Nasca society and contextualizes the traces of this brilliant civilization (ca. 200 B.C.-A.D. 600).

Silverman shows that Cahuachi was much larger and more complex than portrayed in the current literature but that, surprisingly, it was not a densely populated city. Rather, Cahuachi was a grand ceremonial center whose population, size, density, and composition changed to accommodate a ritual and political calendar. Silverman meticulously presents and interprets an abundance of current data on the physical complexities, burials, and artifacts of this prominent site; in addition, she synthesizes the history of previous fieldwork at Cahuachi and introduces a corrected map and a new chronological chart for the Rio Grande de Nazca drainage system.

On the basis of empirical field data, ethnographic analogy, and settlement pattern analysis, Silverman constructs an Andean model of Nasca culture that is crucial to understanding the development of complex society in the Central Andes. Written in a clear and concise style and generously illustrated, this first synthesis of the published data about the ancient Nasca world will appeal to all archaeologists, art historians, urban anthropologists, and historians of ancient civilizations.

Published by: University of Iowa Press


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pp. vii-viii

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A Note on Orthography

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pp. ix-

Except when I am quoting others, Nasca specifically refers to the famous archaeological culture dating to the Early Intermediate Period that is characterized by prefire slip painting of iconographically complex motifs. Nazca denotes the geographical area, river, modern town, and all of the prehispanic and postconquest societies that existed in the drainage. I advocate this orthographic convention ...

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pp. xi-xii

Ever since its scientific or official discovery by Max Uhle in 1901, Nasca art has attracted the attention and captured the imagination of archaeologists, art historians, looters, and the public. Until recently, however, archaeologists have confused their familiarity with the Nasca style with a real understanding of the culture that produced it. On the basis of the scant field data available, ...

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pp. xiii-xiv

The 1984-1985 program of excavations at Cahuachi was authorized by Resolucion Suprema 165-84-ED. I am very grateful to the Instituto Nacional de Cultura for facilitating fieldwork. The Museo Nacional de Antropologia y Arqueologia extended me affiliation. Its director, Hermilio Rosas La Noire, was most helpful in expediting exportation ...

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CHAPTER ONE: The Physical Setting

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pp. 1-13

The heartland of Nasca culture is considered to be the RIO Grande de Nazca drainage (figs. 1.1-1.3; see chap. 2). The river system encompasses some 10,750 square kilometers (ONERN 1971: 2). Its upper reaches are in the departments (states) of Ayacucho and Huancavelica; its lower portion is in the department of Ica. ...

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CHAPTER TWO: A History of Fieldwork in the Nazca Region

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pp. 14-29

The history of the archaeological investigation of Nasca society is, in large part, a reflection of the trajectory of the study of Peru's past. The early period of investigations at Cahuachi and elsewhere was overwhelmingly concerned with cemetery excavations and the establishment of a time-space framework. The middle period, motivated and influenced by the Virti Valley Project, ...

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CHAPTER THREE: Nasca Chronology

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pp. 30-42

Nasca pottery is found in a large area of the south coast of Peru 1 during the period of time called the Early Intermediate Period, c. 200 B.C. to A.D. 600 (fig. 3.1). Shortly after the discovery of the pottery, various researchers realized it was possible to distinguish two principal modalities inthe Nasca ceramic style (Rowe 1960: 29). Uhle ...

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CHAPTER FOUR: Strong’s Fieldwork at Cahuachi: Chronology and Culture

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pp. 43-54

Although various archaeologists carried out excavations at Cahuachi in the first half of this century, all were concerned with mortuary contexts and the fancy pottery found in association. Only Strong (1957) took a broad approach to the site, contextualizing and conceptualizing it within Nasca society and south coast prehistory.l ...

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CHAPTER FIVE: Surface Survey of Cahuachi

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pp. 55-87

As we have seen in the previous chapters, relatively little was known about Cahuachi when my project began, despite the site's fame in the literature and known importance in Andean prehistory. The only substantive description of Cahuachi was published by Strong in his 1957 preliminary report; however, his comments are ...

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CHAPTER SIX: Architecture and Spatial Organization at Cahuachi

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pp. 88-99

The precolumbian cultures of the Andes exhibit distinctive architectural and spatial patterns. For instance, Initial Period ceremonial centers of the central coast are characterized by the quintessential U-shaped mound, and Wari exhibits the orthogonal room-block pattern. Cahuachi also has a definable pattern. The elements that ...

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CHAPTER SEVEN: Looters and Looting

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pp. 100-109

Cahuachi is a massively looted site (figs. 7.1-7.4). Doering (1958) suggests that at least some of the looting of Cahuachi dates to the Colonial Period as a result of the Spaniards' search for gold. Since elsewhere in Peru the Spanish looted huacas in the hope of finding treasure, it is possible that Cahuachi also would have received their attention. The colonial presence at Cahuachi is confirmed ...

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CHAPTER EIGHT: Excavation Strategy and Methodology

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pp. 110-115

As a result of the 1983 survey several working hypotheses were formulated to explain the skewed settlement pattern for the Early Intermediate Period that was elucidated from the brief 1983 reconnaissance (see fig. 2.7). That survey revealed a plethora of Nasca cemeteries but a paucity of Nasca habitation sites, particularly for the ...

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CHAPTER NINE: Excavations in an Open Area

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pp. 116-125

This chapter deals with excavations that were conducted in three locations in the large open (unconstructed) area enclosed by Unit 16: north and south of the Unit 16 wall (Excavations 1 and 2 respectively), north and south of the N42-44 wall of Unit 24 (Excavation 3), and through ...

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CHAPTER TEN: Excavation at Unit F

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pp. 126-128

Excavation 5 was conducted at the base of Unit F where a cane (Phragmites comunis) wall had been identified on the surface in 1983. The purpose of the excavation was to determine if the cane wall was ancient and if it corresponded to an area of domestic occupation. ...

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pp. 129-142

Through test pits I hoped to determine the original function(s) of the open (unconstructed) areas of Cahuachi. The primary factor guiding the decision of where to locate the test pits was the degree of looting present on the surface. Test pits were placed where surface disturbance either did not exist or seemed to be minimal; it was exceedingly ...

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CHAPTER TWELVE: Excavation of Mound Architecture

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pp. 143-173

Excavations were conducted on the Unit 19 mound and at its base (figs. 12.1-12.3). The investigation of the architecture atop Unit 19 was greatly hindered by the fact that looting here was so severe in places as to have virtually destroyed all archaeological context and, with it, stratigraphy. At the base of the mound looting was less ...

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CHAPTER THIRTEEN: Excavation of the Room of the Posts

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pp. 174-195

The Room of the Posts (figs. 12.1, 12.3, 13.1, 13.2) was discovered in the course of the excavations at the base of Unit 19. The room is defined by Walls 10,45,14, and 11. The Wall 10-Wall 45 corner had been deliberately packed with fill in a sterile sand matrix eastward for almost 7 meters (figs. 13.3, 13.4). The packing continued ...

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CHAPTER FOURTEEN: Burials at Cahuachi

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pp. 195-217

In chapters 5 and 7 I emphasized the fact that Cahuachi is a massively looted site. When Strong arrived at Cahuachi in 1952, the site appeared to him to have been almost exhausted by looters, although he did find intact Nasca 5 and 6 burials (Strong 1957: 32, figs. 13, 14B-J). More than thirty years later, to our great surprise, excavations ...

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CHAPTER FIFTEEN: Trophy Heads at Cahuachi

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pp. 218-226

The term "trophy head" was coined in 1901 by Max Uhle, who considered the depiction of severed heads in ancient Peruvian art to correspond to trophies of warfare. Uhle first noted the similarities between the Nasca severed heads and the shrunken Jivaro heads of lowland Ecuador. Both societies used spines to seal the eyes and ...

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CHAPTER SIXTEEN: Nasca Pottery at Cahuachi

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pp. 227-259

This chapter is an accounting of the ceramic materials found in my excavations at Cahuachi and how this ceramic sample compares with other reported Nasca collections with provenience. This description and comparison are necessary to help us interpret the function of Cahuachi. ...

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CHAPTER SEVENTEEN: Other Ceramic Artifacts

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pp. 260-263

On the surface of the Lower Eastern Rooms of Unit 19 at grid point N16/E45, a solid modeled ceramic figurine that has been broken and lacks its head and lower left leg was recovered (fig. 17.1). Preserved height of the figurine is 88 millimeters. Maximum width is 58 millimeters. Maximum thickness is 24 millimeters. The figurine ...

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CHAPTER EIGHTEEN: Textile Artifacts

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pp. 264-274

Textiles are by far the most abundant nonceramic artifact recovered at Cahuachi. These remains encompass special artifacts as well as miscellaneous bits and wads of unspun cotton fiber, individual fragments of single and multiple threads of various colors and plies, scraps of undyed plainweaves and two-colored (white and brown, ...

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CHAPTER NINETEEN: Artifacts in Other Media

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pp. 275-288

Shell artifacts are not common at Cahuachi. A total of eleven pieces of worked shell were recovered (table 19.1 ). Seven of these (shell artifacts 1- 7) correspond to chaquira or little round shell beads that are discoidal and quite small, averaging 7 millimeters in diameter with an orifice diameter usually only 1 to 2 millimeters (the exceptio: n ...

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CHAPTER TWENTY: Botanical Remains

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pp. 289-293

While lack of preservation in many parts of the world makes such a problem [the quantification of plant remains] a moot issue, in arid regions such as coastal Peru it is of practical as well as theoretical interest. Recently, a number of archaeologists excavating on the coast of Peru have had to make the decision whether or not to quantify, given the excellent preservation of subsistence ...

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CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE: Malacological Analysis by Mar

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pp. 294-299

I analyzed 2,735.9 grams of shell remains representing a minimum number of individuals (MNI) of 690. In addition, I inspected the remains of three other phyla: Echinoderms, Arthropoda, and Chordata (fish). This chapter summarizes the results of these studies. ...

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CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO: The Identification of Cahuachi as a Ceremonial Center

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pp. 300-319

Excavation and survey at Cahuachi have conclusively negated the site's alleged urban nature (versus Rowe 1963: 10-11; Lanning 1967: 116-117; Proulx 1968: 96; Lumbreras 1974a: 123-124). Cahuachi's mounds are ceremonial constructions, not habitation mounds. Missing from the archaeological record at Cahuachi in ...

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CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE: The Significance and Broader Context of Cahuachi

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pp. 320-344

For years scholars have tried to explain the conditions that produced the wide areal distribution of an essentially homogeneous Nasca style. In considering the sociopolitical context of the famous Nasca style and especially the political significance of the concentration of ceremonial behavior at Cahuachi, one of the thorniest ...


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pp. 345-360


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pp. 361-371

E-ISBN-13: 9781587292231

Publication Year: 2009