National Geographic : 2014 Jun
Peru Tomb 67 population of as many as 40,000 people—a city larger than Paris at the time, which had no more than 20,000 inhabitants. From this stronghold the Wari lords extended their domain hundreds of miles along the Andes and into the coastal deserts, forging what many archaeologists call the first empire in Andean South America. Researchers have long puzzled over exactly how the Wari built and governed this vast, unruly realm, whether through conquest or persuasion or some combination of both. Unlike most imperial powers, the Wari had no system of writing and left no recorded narrative history. But the rich finds at El Castillo, a journey of some 500 miles from the Wari capital, are filling in many blanks. The foreign invaders probably first appeared on this stretch of coast around the end of the eighth century. The region lay along what was then the southern frontier of the wealthy Moche lords, and it seems to have lacked strong local leaders. Just how the invaders launched their of- fensive is unclear, but an important ceremonial drinking cup discovered in El Castillo’s impe- rial tomb depicts poleax-wielding Wari warriors battling coastal defenders brandishing spear throwers. When the fog of war lifted, the Wari were in firm control. The new lord constructed a palace at the foot of El Castillo, and over time he and his successors began transforming the steep hill above into a towering temple devoted to ancestor worship. Cloaked in nearly a thousand years of rubble and wind-borne sediment, El Castillo today looks like a huge stepped pyramid, a monument built from the bottom up. But from the beginning Giersz suspected that there was more to El Cas- tillo than met the eye. To tease out the building plan, he invited a team of architecture experts to examine the newly exposed staircases and walls. Their studies revealed something that Giersz had suspected—that Wari engineers began con- struction along the very top of El Castillo, a natural rock formation, and eventually worked their way downward. They adapted this method from elsewhere, says Krzysztof Makowski, an archaeologist at the Pontifical Catholic Univer- sity of Peru in Lima and the El Castillo project’s scientific adviser. “In the mountains the Wari made agricultural terraces, and they started at the top.” As they moved downward, they cut into the slopes to make a tier of platforms. Along the summit of El Castillo the builders first carved out a subterranean chamber that be- came the imperial tomb. When it was ready for sealing, laborers poured in more than 30 tons of gravel and capped the entire chamber with a layer of heavy adobe bricks. Then they raised a mausoleum tower above, with crimson walls that could be seen for miles around. The Wari elite left rich offerings in small chambers inside, from the finely woven textiles that ancient An- dean peoples valued more highly than gold; to knotted cords known as khipus, used for keeping track of imperial goods; to the body parts of the Andean condor, a bird closely associated with the Wari aristocracy. (Indeed, one title of the Wari emperor may well have been Mallku, an Andean word meaning “condor.”) At the center of the tower was a room con- taining a throne. In later times looters reported to a German archaeologist that they found mummies arrayed in wall niches there. “We are pretty sure this room was used for the venera- tion of the ancestors,” says Giersz. It may even have been used for venerating the emperor’s mummy, yet to be discovered by the team. To rub shoulders in death with members of Queen Cross section Nobles Guardians Throne Height of existing structure Hypothetical reconstruction Skull of El Castillo’s great queen n Society Grant Archaeologist Miłosz Giersz’s work was funded in part by your Society membership.