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Thames & Hudson

Chapter 17 - From Village to Empire in South America
Learning Objectives

After reading this chapter, students should be able to:

    understand the impact of extreme and varied environments on cultural trajectories in South America

    describe the cultural connections between the Pacific coast/Andean region and the lowlands/Amazonia in both early and later times

    discuss the early development of complex social behavior in the Andes and Pacific coast

    relate the details of the maritime hypothesis

    relate the details of the seasonal dual residency and split subsistence activity hypotheses

    explain the core ceremonial features of complex Andean civilizations

    describe the subsistence practices used to cope with vertical environmental zones, high altitude, deserts, steep terrain, and other environmental challenges

    characterize the Andean Periods and Horizons in terms of trends and conditions

    describe each complex culture arising in the Andes, coastal Pacific and High Sierra, and explain the differences and continuities seen over time

    understand the construction of elite identity and legitimation throughout the Andean sequence

    outline the religious beliefs and mortuary traditions throughout the Andean sequence, and how they change or persist through time

    describe the major monuments and artistic achievements of Andean civilizations

    explain how the Inca acquired, consolidated, and maintained the largest empire in the pre-Columbian Americas

    understand the linguistic and material evidence for Amazonian prehistory

    trace the diaspora of Amazonian and Caribbean peoples

    relate the connections, ideological, social, and material, between people living on either side of the Andes range

    discuss the controversy and debate over complexity and urbanization in Amazonia

    outline the evidence for complex societies now known in Amazonia

    relate how new understanding of environment and biodiversity has changed theories about Amazonian cultural evolution

    explain the combination of shared culture and regionalism in Amazonia and the Caribbean

    describe the features and artifacts associated with Amazonian cultures and traditions


South America is characterized by environmental extremes which confronted its inhabitants with disparate conditions and resources. Paleoindian colonists diverged within different environments, some continuing to forage in the far south, while agriculture fostered complex societies in the Amazonian tropics and Andes Mountains.

The Andes The Andean Range from Ecuador to the Caribbean is low, wet, and well vegetated. In northern Peru, the Cordillera rises and divides into parallel eastern and western ranges; culminating in a vast mountain trough that holds Lake Titicaca. Then the parallel ranges grow progressively higher, wider, and drier. The lower eastern mountains are well watered, in contrast to the western high sierra. The Pacific coastlands are desert, and in Chile, the highlands are the driest region on earth. Earthquakes, irregular rainfall, and El Niño events are all problems.

The High Sierra. In the central Andes, the sierra offers more farmland than the coast, yet these comprise steep, rugged terrain, experiencing high winds, elevated solar radiation, chronic erosion and poor soils, short growing seasons, aridity, erratic seasonal rainfall, frost, and hail. Low oxygen levels and cold temperatures exert constant stress on people, animals, and plants. People practiced agropastoralism in vertical zones: pastures in high grasslands, then lower potato-growing areas, then lower zones with greater plant diversity, whose products were desired in the highlands where most people lived

The Desert Coast. Fishing was practiced early along the dry coasts of Peru and Chile; desert farming arose later, utilizing rivers diverted into canal systems of irrigation. The largest irrigated valleys lie in northern Peru, decrease in size to the south, and are small west of Lake Titicaca, the largest mountain basin and the demographic center of high-altitude civilization.

Amazonia Amazonia is dominated by the Amazon, Orinoco, and other large rivers. Tropical rainforest is interspersed with other forest types, savannas, and parklands. Once characterized as homogeneous, with impoverished resources hostile to complex societies, discovery of large sedentary communities and massive earthworks is forcing critical re-examination.

Betty Meggers used the Portuguese terms várzea and terra firme to describe, respectively, the rich sediments along tributaries and the low fertility soils in uplands. Research now demonstrates far greater ecological and cultural diversity in Amazonia than expected, and features assumed to be natural are actually cultural in origin. The Amazon can be subdivided into coasts, floodplains, and uplands.

Coasts. Coastal areas include the Caribbean and the mainland coasts. The estuary of the Amazon extends far to the north and south, dominated by the island of Marajó. Coastal adaptations were diverse, and densely populated, large, regional polities (Caribbean chiefdoms such as the Arawak-speaking Taino, and the coastal Tupi).

Floodplains. Major floodplains occur along the Amazon, its principal tributaries, and the Orinoco River. The floodplains were dominated by chiefdoms in late prehistoric times, but large, settled populations also lived away from the annually rejuvenated várzea.

Uplands. The uplands, or terra firme, constitute over 95 percent of Amazonia and are highly variable, characterized by savannas, scrub forests, and tropical forests. All upland areas supported a variety of cultural developments, including large, settled populations in many areas.


The Andes and the Desert Coast Along the Pacific desert coast, people began exploiting marine resources by at least 9000 BC. In northern Chile, sedentary Chinchorro fishermen began mummifying their dead c. 6000 BC, while their counterparts in central Peru began erecting mounds around 3000 BC at sites such as Aspero. Inland, mixed economies supported sedentary communities with platform mounds at sites such as Caral, and sierra settlements included Nanchoc and La Galgada.

In the Andes, the hunting and gathering era is called the Lithic or Archaic period. In Peru, it is subdivided into a Preceramic period (c. 3000-1800 BC) with large architectural projects. During the Ceramic period, intensive agropastoralism was enhanced with pottery and heddle-loom weaving. In northern Peru, this was adopted around 1800 BC, reaching the Lake Titicaca area c. 1400 BC, and later still in arid Chile. The agropastoral occupation of the Lake Titicaca region is subdivided into Formative and Classic episodes, the latter associated with the Tiwanaku empire.

A ceramic chronology creates three periods and three interspersed horizons, These periods correlate with episodes of coastal prosperity: the Initial period (1800-400 BC), when coastal irrigation and sierra agropastoralism supported population growth and the construction of large monuments, such as at Sechin Alto. The Moche and Nazca cultures produced vibrant arts on the coast during the Early Intermediate period (200 BC-AD 650), and during the Late Intermediate period the lords of the Chimu empire (AD 1000-1476), ruled from the city of Chan Chan.

Horizons correlate with expansions of sierra influence, beginning with the Early Horizon (400-200 BC), when Chavín religious ideology spread through the northern Andes. The Middle Horizon (AD 650-1000) saw the spread of the Wari state from the central sierra and the Tiwanaku state from the Lake Titicaca region. Finally, in the Late Horizon (1476-1533) the Incas emerged.

Amazonia and the Atlantic Coast

Along South America's Atlantic coast, preceramic sedentary populations created impressive refuse/habitation mounds, called sambaquis, sculpted into major ceremonial sites as early as 4000-3000 BC, but largely between 2000 BC and AD 1. Fluvial shell mounds are found along the Amazon, such as at Taperinha where ceramics date to 5500 BC, and the Lower Amazon Mina tradition, dating to c. 3500 BC.

In Amazonia, the earliest semi-settled populations were present by middle Holocene times (c. 4000-2000 BC). By 2000 BC, incipient agriculturalists are reflected in the widespread appearance of ceramics, particularly griddles for cooking manioc flatbread.

The Amazonian Formative (1000 BC-AD 500) is characterized by settled agriculturalists. Partially overlapping the Formative, a "Regional Developmental" period (AD 1-1000) involved inter-regional systems of interaction. Next, a broad regional "Classic" period (AD 1000-1500) saw the emergence of political economies. European arrival in the Caribbean (1490s) and Brazil (1500) created phases of collapse and reconstitution.


Andean Preceramic people subsisted on wild foods, yet built earthworks from early times.

Early Mound Construction in Central and Northern Peru At Nanchoc, two stone-faced platform mounds originated between 6000 and 5500 BC. Alternating episodes of use and construction are similar to later structures (i.e. Kotosh and La Galgada). One-room structures stood atop such platforms, used in the Kotosh tradition for burnt offerings. At La Galgada, older ritual chambers were used for male and female elite interments.

The occupants of Nanchoc, Kotosh, and La Galgada relied on wild resources and cultivated plants. The lack of domesticated staples and the scarcity of farmland suggest that the 2000 individuals who erected Galgada only occasionally congregated there.

Platforms and Sunken Courts along the Desert Coast The largest Preceramic monuments are found by coastal desert rivers: Huaca Prieta, Salinas de Chao, Los Morteros, Huaynuna, Aspero, Culebras, Banduria, and El Paraiso. Inland complexes exist in the Chillon Valley and Supe drainages, where Caral lies. Complexes include elevated, flat-topped platforms with wide central staircases, which served as ritual display stages. Only a few people could fit in the ceremonial space, indicating hierarchic society. Many double platforms might reflect moieties. Aspero, Caral, and El Paraiso have six or more mounds, suggesting several groups or clans. Mounds are termed "civic-ceremonial" as they probably served secular and sacred purposes.

In front of larger mounds, processions would descend into the earth by using stone-lined, circular sunken or subterranean courts before ascending up the larger platforms. Rites and beliefs associated with sunken courts are called the Plaza Hundida tradition, and developed over time; circular and rectangular sunken courts occur later at Chavín de Huantar, and rectangular forms atop platforms appeared in the Titicaca region through the Tiwanaku occupation. Sunken courts were sometimes more prominent than associated platforms, as at the Caral "amphitheater," or had no associated mounds.

The civic-ceremonial facilities at Rio Seco, Banduria, and Huaynuna were built by coastal communities reliant on marine resources. Despite an absence of nearby farmland, domesticated plants and processing waste are present, indicating seasonal trips to work arable land, perhaps dwelling at sites such as Aspero and El Paraiso.

Monuments at Aspero, such as the Huaca de los Idolos and Huaca de los Sacrificios indicate a smaller population than was needed to build it, perhaps showing a regional labor commitment.

Mounds and their Builders at Caral and El Paraiso The Supe Valley on Peru's desert coast has 17 Preceramic civic-ceremonial centers. Ruth Shady argues that favorable groundwater conditions enabled irrigation, creating the fishing/farming subsistence evident at Caral, a 50-ha (124-acre) mound and residential complex with an "amphitheater," circular sunken courts, and six mounds, including the Templo Mayor, the largest Preceramic platform excavated to date. Domestic residences of both commoners and elites have been excavated.

Shady proposes that the 17 complexes were built and maintained using outside labor, part of the seasonal dual residency hypothesis: temporary nucleation around arable land, and dispersal during long intervening times. At El Paraiso, more than 100,000 tons of quarried stone went into nine architectural complexes, with almost no surrounding middens or occupational debris. What little is found indicates marine protein with some domesticates -- parallel to Caral. El Paraiso's builders probably also did not reside there year-round.


Agriculture spread first to low, tropical areas before arriving at the desert coast and central Andean Cordillera. Ecuador's low, well-watered mountains supported the Valdivia farming people, who produced pottery by 3000 BC. At Real Alto, circular houses lie around a circular plaza, an Amazonian-type arrangement. This way of life did not reach drier and higher environments for over a millennium.

The Initial Period The Initial period begins about 1800 BC, marked by pottery, weaving, and agropastoralism, which enabled the establishment of numerous inland archaeological sites. Each community erected civic and ceremonial mounds, sunken courts, and walled enclosures. Kin groups may have carried out construction-related decision-making. La Galgada provides Initial period mortuary evidence of elites, but elsewhere symbols of rank are largely absent.

Cerro Sechín's square central mound has a unique stone bas-relief showing men with ax-like clubs parading among dismembered human bodies, foreshadowing later Moche themes of elite combat. Other iconography emphasizes supernatural themes. The most impressive complex is Sechín Alto, the largest in the Americas for its time.

Most large monuments were erected during the Initial period, some in U-shaped complexes (a high mound with two lower wings around a central court), many with supernatural friezes suggesting theocracy. After a millennium of activity, abandonment began between 900 and 800 BC, perhaps related to centuries of drought.

Chavín and the Early Horizon Chavín de Huantar lies in the northern sierra. Two conjoined U-shaped platform mounds comprise the Castillo, built in one episode toward the end of the Initial period. Framing a circular sunken court is the smaller Old Temple; a rectangular sunken court fronts the larger New Temple. The platforms harbor multi-storied galleries roofed with stone slabs. The temples functioned simultaneously until around 200 BC.

The Castillo's stone carvings include human, bird, and canine heads, wall plaques of felines, raptors, serpents, and supernatural beings: all Amazonian predators. The paramount Chavín deity is depicted on a stela in the Old Temple: a finely attired and bejewelled figure with snakelike hair and eyebrows, a feline face, claws, and canine teeth. It is called the Staff God, as other renditions depict a staff in each clawed hand.

The Staff God cult and attendant iconography are characteristic of the Early Horizon over much of Peru between 400 and 200 BC, when drought and environmental risk caused Chavín to join a far-flung communication and exchange network. Innovative technologies appeared during this era in cloth production, metallurgy, and metalworking. At several places, including Kuntur Wasi and Paracas, rich grave goods indicate elite rulers.

Paracas. This peninsula necropolis served elites from adjacent valleys. Subterranean vaults contained up to 40 flexed mummy bundles, typical in the south and Titicaca region, presumably a kin-group. Grave goods include polychrome ceramics and exquisite fabrics depicting mythical creatures and human elites.

Pukara. Pukara, northwest of Lake Titicaca, features massive masonry terraces topped with civic-ceremonial structures, freestanding one-room houses, warehouses, and offices. Pukara-style polychrome pottery is typical in the Titicaca region beginning at 400 BC. Stone carvings depict felines, serpents, lizards, and anthropomorphic beings, often with trophy heads. Well-decorated libation vessels, called keros, were common, later used by the Incas for ritual drinking.


During the Early Intermediate period (200 BC-AD 600), exploitable environments were fully occupied, and long droughts curtailed prosperity. Monumental sites decreased, giving way to simple residential communities, some fortified, indicating hostilities. Government lost much of its theocratic theme, and was carried out by an elite class, called kuraka, who ruled by claiming descent from sacred forebears. Special mortuary treatment and rich grave goods accompanied them in death. The kuraka monopolized prestige goods' production, thus their styles reflect the political, religious, and ethnic composition of elite sponsoring bodies. The Early Intermediate has been called the Master Craftsmen and Regional Developmental period, due to this arts patronage.

Gallinazo, Moche, and the North Coast Moche, and its famed art style, owes much to the preceding Gallinazo culture. Gallinazo people expanded coastal irrigation, and thus their ability to produce adobe bricks used in monuments and elite quarters. Platform mounds lay on hillsides or peaks, such as Rio Santa's Castillo and the Rio Viru's Tomoval promontory, where a vast complex of collapsed adobe buildings is called the Gallinazo Group, which contained 30,000 rooms, perhaps a state or regional confederation capital. While non-uniform styles make this uncertain, the region's kuraka shared values, beliefs, and local alliances, probably mitigating risk during centuries of drought.

Moche culture, often considered the first native South American state, arose around AD 200, as drought lessened and the kuraka adopted a new style. Politically-inspired fine arts legitimized kuraka rule and ritual through realistic iconography depicting supernaturals and elite humans. The temples of the Sun and Moon (Huaca del Sol and Huaca de la Luna) in the Moche Valley were the central place of an integrated polity. In the north, Moche-affiliated fiefdoms and principalities are found.

The shared Moche ideology survives in mural and ceramic arts. Complex ritual drinking vessels display divinities, people, and animals or scenes portraying themes or stories: a battle between supernatural beings, the death and burial of a king, or combat between teams of richly garbed, well-armored kuraka warriors. The defeated were displayed nude and humiliated, then ritually sacrificed, their attire and armor retained by the victors; warrior accouterments accompany elite graves at many sites. Such events occurred at major Moche seats, depicted in murals and friezes. It is unclear whether territorial subjugation accompanied defeat.

The Temples of the Sun and Moon The Huaca del Sol (Temple of the Sun) and Huaca de la Luna (Temple of the Moon) dominate the capital. The Luna mound's three platforms and interconnecting walls display polychrome murals of supernatural beings and warrior captives. A platform on a high rocky outcrop was the stage for actual sacrifices: below the outcrop platform, archaeologists excavated remains of over 20 young males suffering skull injuries and dismemberment.

West of the Luna complex were walled adobe enclosures along north-south avenues, where extended families lived and worked as skilled artisans; others housed noble families. Rulers lived atop the platform of the Huaca del Sol, one of the largest mounds ever erected in South America. Several building phases involved millions of mud-bricks; "makers' marks" identify different communities assigned to build various sections.

Provincial Moche centers in nearby valleys include Huanaco, Pampa de Los Incas (Guadalupito), Pañamarca, and El Brujo. Archaeologists believe that monumental centers to the north, such as Dos Cabesas and Sipán, reflect more independent polities.

A massive El Niño flood, sand dune incursions, and a drought between AD 562 and 594 impacted the Moche culture, Initially enduring at a lesser level, it disappeared c. AD 700-800.

Nazca and the South Coast The Nazca culture is partially contemporary with Moche (c. 200 BC-AD 650). Nazca weavers and potters depicted abstract and realistic shapes: plants, animals, people, and supernaturals, but without scenes of myths or rituals. Some supernaturals have feline features and carry human heads, reflected in elite burials, hallmarks of kuraka ceremonialism.

Most of Nazca's small, dispersed prehistoric population lived in simple farming communities, but the central ceremonial place, Cuachi, had over 40 mounds and a Great Temple. Platforms were fronted by plazas, where feasting occurred. Lack of residential quarters and domestic garbage indicates only ritual use. The multitude of mounds suggests that every social group erected a complex.

Nazca is famous for its desert ground drawings (geoglyphs) on the plains; lines and figures created by removing rocks to expose lighter surfaces below, accomplished quite easily. The 1000 km (620 miles) of straight lines, more than 300 geometric figures, and three dozen animal figures have spawned theories ranging from space aliens to underground maps. Probably, they served several purposes.


At its height, the Inca empire was the largest native American state, and the largest ancient empire south of the equator. With some structured and internally ordered traditions and others stressing competing groups, archaeologists debate the degree to which pre-Inca empires were hierarchical and centralized, or heterogeneous and confederated.

The Middle Horizon: Tiwanaku and Wari The Inca had antecedents in Middle Horizon times (c. AD 650-1000), when the Wari ruled highland and coastal Peru from Ayacucho, while Tiwanaku ruled southern Peru, Bolivia, and northern Chile from near Lake Titicaca. Wari intensified agriculture through irrigating mountain slopes with terrace systems, while Tiwanaku farmed high-altitude crops, herding llama and alpaca.

Tiwanaku's ruling kuraka mobilized labor to build stone-faced temple mounds for ritual display visible to large audiences. The largest platform mound in the southern Andes held a sunken ceremonial court and anthropomorphic stelae may represent rulers or deities. The Gateway of the Sun depicts rows of winged beings converging on a central figure atop a platform mound, holding a staff in each hand -- a revitalization of the Chavín Staff God.

Wari, in contrast, rarely used stonework, instead using plaster-covered fieldstones to build walled compounds around open patios. Occasional D-shaped buildings with undivided interiors were temples, which were not meant to house large audiences. Wari's largest provincial center was Pikillacta. A buffer zone typically separated the Wari and Tiwanaku states, except in Peru's Moquegua Valley, where each had a provincial center.

Centuries of interaction led Wari to adopt Tiwanaku's pantheon, but the paramount god (seen on the Gateway of the Sun) was portrayed and interpreted differently. Both states were undermined by drought after about AD 1050, when economic stress and social tensions led both to collapse and fragment into small polities.

The Late Intermediate Period: Lambayeque and Chimor The city of Chan Chan in the Moche Valley was the capital of Chimor, South America's second-largest native empire. Established by a venerated ancestor called Taycanamu, Chan Chan's kurakas eventually ruled a 1000-km (620-mile) area with two-thirds of all irrigated desert land.

Lambayeque and Batán Grande. Lambayeque is irrigated with canals connected to rivers crossing the coastal desert. After the Moche dissolved c. AD 800, the Lambayeque site of Batán Grande arose, with a dozen platform mounds, smaller monuments, and over 10,000 rich interments.

Oral traditions mention Lambayeque sites founded by Naymlap, who arrived by sea with his wife and entourage and built Chot, thought to be the monumental ruins of Chotuna. His descendants founded cities or ruled extant centers, implying a heterogeneous confederation. One descendant invoked the gods' wrath, bringing disastrous rains, pestilence, famine, and political collapse; an exceptionally catastrophic El Niño event does date to AD 1100 inundating Chotuna and flooding Batán Grande. Tucume Viejo then became the major political center, continuing through conquest by Chimor and the Incas.

Chimor and Chan Chan. Chimor's reputed founder, Taycanamu, arrived alone by sea, saying he was sent to govern. His descendants united the Moche Valley, then attempted two major external expansions. Archaeological data place Chimor's subjugation by the Incas around 1470, a century after the Lambayeque.

Rectangular kuraka enclosures with interior mortuary mounds fill Chimor's imperial capital, Chan Chan. Many of the c. 29,000 inhabitants were weavers and metalsmiths, who served fewer than 6000 elites. Nobility resided in 30 compounds while rulers lived in enclosures called ciudadelas ("citadels"), nine of which survive; the smallest, Rivero, as large as six football fields.

The Rivero and Tschudi compounds, built shortly before Inca conquest, housed inhabitants probably viewed as god-kings. Burial platforms produced fine ceramics, textiles, gold, human sacrifices, and many generations of royal interments.

The Late Horizon: Cuzco and the Incas The Incas called their realm Tawantinsuyu, "Land of the Four Quarters" as four lines, creating quadrants (suyu) and four highways, radiated out of the capital, Cuzco, considered the navel of the universe. The empire comprised 80 ethnically and linguistically diverse provinces, using Runa Simi as a lingua franca for government business.

Origins and Expansion. Ethnohistories describe a venerated ancestor, Manco Capac, as the Inca founder, and that Tawantinsuyu was the product of an expansion by Pachacuti, the seventh ruler, his son and grandson. The archaeological record agrees that the expansion was late, but that the Inca originated around AD 1000, after the Wari collapse.

Some of the dozen ethnic groups around Cuzco allied themselves peacefully with the Incas through intermarriage. Early allies were made "Inca by privilege" gained bureaucratic posts, and paid tribute to "Incas by birth." One resistant group was the Mohina. Repeated conflict created a buffer zone between Cuzco and the Mohina city of Chokepukio, and when the Incas defeated them, many Mohina were exiled, their land settled by Inca vassals. The Inca were then positioned to create an imperial style and expand territorially, first in the Titicaca basin, a "bread basket" that fueled expansion into the sierra and coast.

Cuzco and the Trappings of Empire. The imperial economy was based on agricultural taxation, textile tribute, and work draft. Commoners of both sexes were required to plow, plant, and harvest government and state religious lands. Women were obliged to weave textiles; men to work on building projects. Deceased elites were mummified and venerated, residing in their former quarters or in sanctuaries, attending major ritual events with the living. Mountains were sacred sources of rainfall and water, propitiated with peak-top sacrifices of goods and people.

The Incas built and maintained a vast all-weather highway system of 30,000-40,000 km (18,500-24,500 miles). Imperial buildings in Cuzco, regional centers, and rural estates employed two forms of mortarless masonry: ashlar (uniform, rectangular stones), used for freestanding walls, and polygonal (large multi-sided, uniquely faceted blocks), used for terraces and solid structures. Sacsahuaman, Cuzco's largest monument, consisting of terraces and a building complex on a high acropolis, was built by 20,000 corvee laborers.

The city below contained high-walled enclosures called kanchas, each a city block with a single entry. Inside, wasi, one-room thatched-roofed buildings, were built around a patio. Royal lineages resided in elite kanchas. The most opulent was the Coricancha, a temple containing, among other sanctuaries, the gold-encrusted House of the Sun, a silver structure for the moon, and a sacred garden constructed from gold.

The Inca empire was devastated by a smallpox pandemic of European origin, and its cities were plundered by Francisco Pizarro's forces.


The Amazonian Formative period (c. 1000 BC-AD 500), was followed by the Regional Developmental and Classic periods from AD 1 to 1500, which brought growth and diversification in technology, culture, and population. By 1550, large polities, ranked into regional hierarchies, and equally large and powerful confederacies (e.g. the Tupinamba) that lacked rigid hierarchies were both present. Small, egalitarian groups also continued to exist.


The huge region of Amazonia was long ignored by archaeologists and evidence of large, socially complex, sedentary communities and earthworks has only recently emerged. Due to lack of archaeological study, reconstructions of the origins and dispersals of ancient Amazonians are often based on the historical linguistics of lowland South America and the Caribbean.

The Linguistic Evidence Early European explorers encountered the Taino of the Greater Antilles and the coastal Tupi of Brazil, who spoke, respectively, Arawak and Tupiguarani languages. Original speakers of both languages expanded across the lowlands c. 1000-500 BC, the largest diaspora in the Americas, on a par with the Austronesian and Niger-Congo/Bantu language dispersals in Polynesia and Africa. These dispersals define the Amazonian Formative; others are reflected in the distribution of Carib, Gê, and other language families.

The Tupian languages, particularly the Tupiguarani language family, of coastal Tupi and Guarani peoples, began somewhere in southwestern Amazonia c. 3000-2000 BC. Other macro-Tupi families dispersed, but far less widely. Amazon basin colonization occurred after c. AD 1500 , spreading Kocama/Omagua and northern Amazonian languages. Proto-Arawak diverged around 2000 BC in northeast South America; linguistic distance indicates rapid and ancient divergence.

Amazonian, agriculture dates to c. 5000-6000 BC, but innovative swidden (slash-and-burn) agricultural systems were the engine of early diaspora c. 1000-500 BC. However, small site size (i.e. at Trants and Osvaldo) suggests that population pressure was not the cause.

Changes in social, political, and ideological forces -- emergence of hierarchical systems of prestige and value, including hereditary rank, a "founder's ideology," and rivalry between high-ranking individuals -- was the likely stimulus for fissioning, expansion, and long-distance migration.

The Archaeological Evidence. The Orinoco River area holds clues to ancient Arawak peoples. Archaeologists currently disagree about cultural affiliations or dating of initial ceramic industries (the La Gruta tradition), but consensus holds that between c. 1000 and 500 BC, peoples termed the Saladoid and Barrancoid inhabited the middle Orinoco floodplains and the Caribbean. The Lesser Antilles were occupied at c. 500 BC, the Greater Antilles slightly later. The Caribbean was colonized quickly (c. 500-200 BC). Earliest Saladoid peoples (c. 500 BC-AD 500) were ancestral to Arawaks met by Columbus in 1492 -- the Caquetio and Taino "circum-Caribbean chiefdoms."

A correlation between central-plaza villages and "modeled-incised" or "Barrancoid" ceramics is exemplified at the circular Osvaldo site (c. 170 BC-AD 850), and the Açutuba site (c. 500 BC until ethnohistoric times).

The Arawak migrants of c. 500 BC-AD 500 are typically Formative: agricultural, hierarchical, monument-building, theocratic "chiefdoms" in large, fortified villages organized around central public spaces.

Some Amazonian societies became complex through institutions based on hereditary social hierarchy or meritocracies, while others chose to live in small communities, similar to ethnographically known Amazonians.


Around 2000 years ago, Chavín declined, and regional polities emerged in the Andes. From AD 1 to 500, Amazonian societies also developed discrete regional social systems. The Arawaks and Tupiguarani had already spread to distant places, and by AD 500, large-scale population movements ended.

Early examples of emergent social complexity, influenced by the Chavín de Huantar, just over the mountains, are present at

    Sangay (Ecuador)
    Gran Pajetan (Peru)

In the Amazon between 1000 BC and AD 1 cultural development is seen at

    Hupa-iya (on the Ucayali)
    Earthworks (Llanos de Moxos (Baures), Bolivia),

By AD 500-1000, large, regional polities rose along Amazonian rivers, tied into competitive or warring regional interaction systems, which also experienced cultural sharing. Trade in precious stones and metals is seen, and the Polychrome Ceramic Tradition was shared from Marajó to Peru.

The Lower Amazon The Marajoara people of Marajó Island (c. AD 400 to 1400) created the earliest expression of the Polychrome Tradition, especially painted and modeled anthropomorphized burial urns; several sub-traditions are associated with individual polities.

At the Marajó mounds, recent excavation and survey indicates occupation features with associated cemeteries. Size variability suggests political power was unequally concentrated and functional variability between settlements is apparent.

The later Santarem (or Tapajós) culture, known for its artistic traditions, was an Amerindian state that survived into the 16th and 17th centuries. The related Konduri ceramic style, linked to Carib populations of the Guiana shield, indicates that Santarem ceramics were the result of hybridization between northern and Amazonian populations.

Limited archaeological reconnaissance of black earth (terra preta) sites demonstrates dense settlement. Terra preta sites include the remnants of forest gardens and other manmade features, some still used today. Do such features simply represent long-term but small-scale occupation, or do they represent towns and cities in late prehistory? Preliminary survey indicates large towns were indeed present.

The Central Amazon Survey, excavations and mapping of Manaus area sites includes large centers at


Fine ceramics and ceremonial axes indicate trade, but many such items would be invisible archaeologically: ethnohistoric goods included tropical woods, feathers, animals, salt, medicinal plants, and pigments.

The Upper Amazon Clifford Evans and Betty Meggers worked extensively along the Napo River (Ecuador) and Donald Lathrap in the Ucayali River area. Here, immigrant tropical forest farmers founded villages by c. 200 BC which grew into later riverbank towns. As established communities interacted with migrants, warfare occurred but cultural pluralism also resulted, for example, the Cumancaya Pano speakers became intermixed with the Caimito Polychrome Tradition people, creating the modern Shipibo-Conibo style.

Lathrap emphasized the complicated cultural pluralism and subtle historical twists in this part of Amazonia, strategically positioned between the Andes and the Amazon.

The Orinoco and Caribbean Between 1000 and 500 BC, Saladoid-Barrancoid Arawak speakers dominated the Orinoco. After c. AD 1, complex regional societies have been described as influenced by the northern Andean culture, yet cultural continuity between early populations (c. AD 300-500) and the Achagua and Caquetio peoples suggests a fundamentally Amazonian culture. The Gaván-period occupations (c. AD 300-1200) in Venezuela document initial colonization c. AD 300, followed after two centuries by development into ranked polities around regional centers, associated with Lokono, Achagua, and Caquetio Arawaks, with theocratic power structures different from the militaristic chiefdoms of Colombia and Panama.

The Arawak-speakers of the Caribbean in 1492, generally called Taino, lived in large plaza settlements and were ruled by chiefs at centers with major plazas, causeways, and other ceremonial structures, including the unique Greater Antillean ball courts, or bateys, as at Caguana in Puerto Rico, and circular plazas, such as En Bas Saline.

The Southern Amazon In the late 17th and early 18th centuries, Europeans encountered dense, sedentary, mainly Arawak populations in the southern Amazon, with "temples" (ceremonial houses), "idols," and an elaborate ritual life, perhaps similar to Steward and Faron's observation of villages bound through common worship.

Recent archaeological research reveals sites of large size and complexity among Arawak cultures such as Bauré, Pareci, Terêna, Xinguano, which farmed manioc and fished along rivers. They shared a regional, hierarchical organization, had central plaza space, and monumentality,

Interestingly, complex multi-ethnic social formations evolved here over time, with regional internal consistency but also a great admixture of distinctive elements, particularly after AD 900.These chiefdoms were surrounded by smaller, more mobile, and predatory Tupiguarani and Gê-speaking peoples of the uplands.

The Upper Xingu region is important, since cultural continuity between late prehistoric Arawak polities (c. AD 800 onwards) and contemporary Xinguano peoples can be demonstrated, providing an unbroken record of the region's development.

Box Features

Key Controversy: Maritime Foundations Of Andean Civilization?
Key Controversy: The Rank Revolution
Key Controversy: Amazonian Mound Builders
Key Controversy: Amazonian Urbanism?
Key Site: Sechín Alto
Key Site: Sipán and the Presentation Theme
Key Site: The Sacred Valley of the Incas and Machu Picchu
Key Controversy: Human Modification of Amazonian Landscapes before Columbus

Key words and terms Chapter 17

Climate, geography, environment
environmental extremes: biggest river, largest tropical forest, driest desert, longest mountain range, which is also second highest and harshest in the world
wet and dry lowlands
drought conditions
El Niño events
Humboldt Current
Andes Mountains; eastern and western ranges
the Cordillera
Lake Titicaca
the High Sierra
high altitude conditions
low oxygen levels, cold temperatures
low biodiversity
vertical mountain ecological zones,
desert coast
rich fishing grounds
widely spaced streams and rivers
irrigatable valleys
moist Neotropics
high tropical rainforest, seasonal deciduous forests,
floodplain and gallery forests, the cloud or montaña forest,
savannas and parklands, riparian and other wetlands
Amazonian biodiversity
Amazon River
Solimöes River
Várzea and terra firme
Atlantic and Pacific coasts
Caribbean sea
Maracaibo Bay (Colombia)
Amazon estuary
Marajó Island
Anajas River
Pará River
Mata Atlantica
Orinoco River
white-water rivers
Solimöes river
Negro river
savannas, parkland or scrub forests
closed or gallery tropical forests
Guiana and Brazilian highlands
Andean foothills
pronounced seasonal change
Montaña forests
Supe river/valley
Zana river
Santa river/valley
Ica Valley
Ucayali river
Chicama river/valley
Chillon river
Rio Chao
Hurra Valley
Casma river/valley
Rio Mala
Viru river/valley
Chicama river/valley
Nepeña river/valley
Jetepeque river/valley
Lambayeque river/valley
Nazca river/valley
Moche river/valley
the altiplano
the Ayacucho sierra
Rio Huantanay
Rio Tullumay
Moquegua Valley
Cerro Baul
Leche River
Xingu River
Greater Antilles, Lesser Antilles
Rio Negro
Urubamba River
Paraguay River
Brazilian Serra do Mar
Napo River
Meta River
Llanos de Moxos
Gran Chaco

Subsistence species
chili peppers
sweet potato

Runa Simi
Arawak language group
Tupiguarani language group
Carib language group
Gê language group
Kocama/Omagua languages

Ruth Shady
Hiram Bingham
Betty Meggers
Clifford Evans
Emilio Estrada
Donald Lathrap
Scott Raymond
Julian Steward
Louis Faron
Robert Carneiro
Erland Nordenskiöld

Ancient People
Manco Capac
Cieza de Leon
Francisco Pizarro
Christopher Columbus
Pedro Cabral
Francisco de Orellana
Friar Gaspar Cavajal

Periods, Phases, Horizons, Cultures
Lithic or Archaic period
Preceramic period (c. 3000-1800 BC)
Ceramic period (c. 1800-
Lake Titicaca Formative and Classic periods
Initial period (1800-400 BC)
Early Intermediate period (200 BC-AD 650)
Master Craftsmen period; Regional Developmental period
Gallinazo culture
Moche state
Nazca state
Late Intermediate period
Chimor empire (AD 1000-1476),
Early Horizon (400-200 BC)
Chavín state
Paracas culture
Pukara culture
Middle Horizon (AD 650-1000)
Wari state/empire
Tiwanaku state/empire
Late Horizon (1476-1533)
Inca Empire
Mohina state

Mina tradition c. 3500 BC
the Amazonian Formative (1000 BC-AD 500)
Regional Developmental period (AD 1-1000)
Classic period (AD 1000-1500)
European contact period (post-1492)
Gaván-period occupations (c. AD 300-1200)
Taino people
Caquetio people
Tupi people
Guarani people
"Nu-Arawak" the Aruaca and Maipure peoples
Marajoara people
Santarem, or Tapajós culture
Xingu polity
Cumancaya people
Caimito people
Achagua people
Lokono people
Bauré, Pareci, Terêna, Xinguano (Arawak cultures)
Valdivia and Machalilla cultural phases

Caral (Peru)
Nanchoc (Peru)
La Galgada (Peru)
Kotosh (Peru)
Taperinha (Brazil)
Huaca Prieta (Peru)
Salinas de Chao (Peru)
Morteros (Peru)
Huaynuna (Peru)
Aspero (Peru)
Culebras (Peru)
Banduria (Peru)
Rio Seco (Peru)
El Paraiso (Peru)
Caral (Peru)
Real Alto (Peru)
Cerro Sechín (Peru)
Sechín Alto (Peru)
Pampa de los Llamas-Moxeke complex (Peru)
San Jose de Moro (Peru)
Chavín de Huantar (Peru)
Kuntur Wasi (Peru)
Paracas (Peru)
Gallinazo Group (Peru)
Moche (Peru)
Huancaco (Peru)
Pampa de Los Incas (Guadalupito) (Peru)
Pañamarca (Peru)
El Brujo (Peru)
Dos Cabesas (Peru)
Sipán (Peru)
Cuachi (Peru)
Tiwanaku (Peru)
Pikillacta (Peru)
Omo (Peru)
Batan Grande (Peru)
Chotuna (Peru)
Tucume Viejo (Peru)
Chan Chan (Peru)
Cuzco (Peru)
Chokepukio (Peru)
Machu Picchu (Peru)
Ollantaytambo (Peru)
Osvaldo site (Arawak)
Açutuba site (Bolivia)
Sangay (Ecuador)
Gran Pajetan (Peru)
Hupa-iya (Arawak)
Llanos de Moxos (Baures) (Bolivia)
Marajó mounds (Marajó Island)
Teso dos Bichos (Marajó Island)
Camutins mound group (Marajó Island)
Belém mound (Marajó Island)
Santarem (Brazil)
Manacapuru (Brazil)
Hatahara (Brazil)
Caguana (Puerto Rico)
En Bas Saline (Greater Antilles)
Real Alto (Ecuador)

Artifacts, features, buildings, structures
heddle-loom weaving
ceramic griddles
platform mounds
freestanding, one-room structures on mounds
ritual chambers
circular sunken courts
amphitheater, Templo Mayor (Caral)
Huaca de los Idolos, Huaca de los Sacrificios (Aspero)
U-shaped complexes
the Sechin combatants bas-relief (Cerro Sechin)
the Castillo, Old Temple, New Temple, Staff God stele (Chavín de Huantar)
mummy bundles, mummification
Paracas polychrome ceramic tradition
fabrics in dazzling colors, embroidered clothing
gold ornaments resembling cat whiskers
trophy heads
Pukara style polychrome pottery; keros
Huaca del Sol and Huaca de la Luna (Moche)
Moche ritual drinking vessels with themes or stories
Moche sacrificial platform
Great Temple (Cuachi)
Nazca ground drawings/geoglyphs
Wari: youthful, secular, militant, centralized, and hierarchical (Peru)
Tiwanaku: mature, religious, proselytizing. heterogeneous, confederated (southern Peru, Bolivia, and northern Chile
Gateway of the Sun (Tiwanaku)
Wari D-shaped buildings/temples
Huaca Larga (Tucume Viejo)
ciudadelas; Rivero and Tschudi ciudadelas; Audiencias (Chan Chan)
Sacsahuaman, the Coricancha, golden House of the Sun, silver temple of the moon, Coricancha garden of gold (Cuzco)
La Gruta ceramic tradition
Saladoid and Barrancoid ceramic traditions
Guarita Amazonian Polychrome tradition
Marajoara polychrome ceramics, anthropomorphized burial urns
Santarem ceramic style
Konduri ceramic style
Shipibo-Conibo ceramic style
Greater Antillean ball courts (bateys), circular plazas
Arawak rubber ball game
the Charnel House (Real Alto)

Terms, concepts
Andean early trend toward erecting earthworks
civic-ceremonial facilities
Kotosh religious tradition of burnt offerings
hierarchical organization needed for moundbuilding
two platforms reflect dual, or moiety, organization, more indicate numerous social groups
circular sunken courts
Plaza Hundida tradition
mound construction: labor drawn from a broader populace
symbiotic relationship between fishing and farming on Pacific Coast
Initial period: pottery, weaving, intensive farming, and herding, monumental architecture
composite supernatural beings, feline, canine, serpentine
Chavin Staff God cult, Horizon
Early Horizon: innovative technologies in cloth production, metallurgy; development of elite class
Early Intermediate period: less prosperity, fewer monumental facilities, fortified villages, development of elite kuraka class who ruled as divine intermediaries, patronized arts
Moche iconography: battle between supernatural beings, death and burial of a king, warrior combat theme, presentation theme
Moche female priestess tombs
Middle Horizon: spread of the Wari and Tiwanaku states
Late Intermediate period: Chimu consolidation
Late Horizon: Inca consolidation
Inca empire largest Native American empire, ethnically and linguistically diverse Inca lingua franca, called Runa Simi
four suyu
Tawantinsuyu, "Land of the Four Quarters"
four lines creating four quadrants
four all-weather highways
Cuzco as navel of the universe
the Sacred Valley Of The Incas
"Inca by privilege" vs. "Inca by birth"
Inca political economy: agricultural taxation, textile tribute, and work draft
Ancestor veneration, preservation and curation of royal corpses, mummies
Mountaintop sacrifices
ashlar and polygonal masonry
kancha, wasi
Amazonian and Caribbean linguistic diasporas
Amazonian diaspora causes: emergence of hierarchical systems of prestige and value, hereditary rank, a "founder's ideology," rivalry
between high-ranking individuals
Amazonian circular village plan
tropical forest cosmology,
contact between Amazonian and Andean cultures
terra preta

Theories and hypotheses
the "maritime hypothesis"
hypotheses of seasonal dual residency and split subsistence activity
debate over urbanism/complex societies in Amazonia
theory of trans-Pacific influences from Japan
circumscription theory of state formation
monocausal "prime-mover" explanations

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