Pachacamac Archaeological Project
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ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: Information and images presented in this website were obtained with the support of National Science Foundation grants BCS-0313964 and BCS-0411625 and National Geographic Society CRE grants 7472-03 and 7668- 04. We gratefully acknowledge their support.

The Site of Pachacamac:

The complex and extensive site (an estimated 5 km2 including a ca. 2.5 km2 core area) of Pachacamac on the central coast of Peru has long been regarded as the preeminent religious and/or pilgrimage center of pre-Hispanic Peru. The fame and power of its oracle and ancient temples, together with myths pertaining to its dualistic, telurian, patron deity, “Pachacamac,” have been described by both Spanish Colonial writers and modern scholars. This deity is said to have had the power, on the one hand, to create and sustain humans, nurture crops, and cure disease, and, on the other hand, to cause earthquakes, storms in the Pacific, and disease. In his 1534 report, Miguel Estete, for example, noted that many pilgrims from far and wide came there to pay respects, consult, and/or make offerings to the oracle at the Pachacamac (aka Painted) Temple in the innermost (westernmost) sacred precinct. Pedro Cieza de León (1553) and Pedro de la Gasca (1553) described how this sanctuary was surrounded by shelters for pilgrims and the tombs of noblemen and priests, who wished to be buried close to the deity they had worshipped.

The site of Pachacamac is organized into four major sectors by three concentric major walls (See the accompanying map; e.g., Eeckhout 1999; Paredes 1990; Shimada 1991). The most sacred and apparently oldest sector (I) occupies the southernmost and highest area with an excellent view of the Pacific. Its perimeter wall encloses a roughly trapezoidal area (ca. 470 m x 400 m) containing (a) the Temple of the Sun of the Inca empire (LH), (b) the Pachacamac Temple (a.k.a.Painted Temple) of the Pachacamac II culture of the late MH and early LIP, and (c) the Old Pachacamac Temple (a.k.a. Lima Temple) of the Wari-influenced Pachacamac I culture and preceding late Lima culture (late EIP-late MH; Franco and Paredes 2000). Another late Lima temple is believed to lie beneath the Sun Temple (Patterson 1966:114). Lima constructions utilize diagnostic adobitos or small hand-shaped adobes.

The second, U-shaped sector (II) surrounds the first sector and is defined on the inland side by a major northeast-southwest running wall (Uhle's "Old City" or "Inner City Wall"). Much of the second sector is occupied by 14 Pyramids with Ramps that are found on both sides of the principal North-South and East-West streets. The N-S Street connects Sectors II and III. These pyramids are, in reality, complex, walled, multi-level platforms accessible by a series of short straight ramps. They have varied orientations and are built primarily of adobe bricks and tapia (pounded earthen blocks). They date to the pre-Inca period of the Señorío de Ychsma, ca. C.E. 1100-1460. There are also major Incaic constructions (ca. C.E. 1460-1533) in this sector, including the Pilgrims' Plaza, the Convent of the Mamacunas, the Quipu House, and the Tauri-Chumpi Palace.

Uhle (1903) referred to Sectors I and II together as the "inner city" (ca. 950 x 1350 m; 1.28 km2) and the third sector (III) as the "outer city"(a.k.a. barrio). Sector III (ca. 850 x 1100 m, ca. 0.94 km2), is defined by the "Inner City Wall" on the south side and the "Great Perimeter" or "Outer City Wall" on the north side, presently covered by sand. Uhle (1903: 62) dated the Outer City Wall as Incaic and observed that Sector III "was occupied by extensive quarters of huts" and cemeteries dating to Inca period occupation. These structures were likely constructed of quincha. Various Spanish writers (e,g,, Cieza 1932[1554]; Estete 1985[1534], Calancha 1976 [1638]) noted that many pilgrims from far and wide had to fast and wait (up to a year) before being allowed to reach the sacred precinct. Since Uhle's (1903) work, this area has come to be assumed as the LH residential areas for the pilgrims that the Spaniards saw in 1533 (Estete 1985[1534]).

The sand-covered area north of the Outer City Wall corresponds to Sector IV. In this sector, there are five straight walls running parallel and perpendicular to the Outer City walls, whose dates and functions are not well defined (Paredes 1991). At the west edge of the site immediately below the bluff is a floodplain, which appears to have been cultivated, as Uhle's (1903) designation, "Fields of Hacienda Mamacona" and "Sun Fields" suggest. Some 350 m west of the circular Lima temple of Urpay Wachak in Sector II is Urpay Wachak or the Ducks' Lagoon.

The fame and power of the oracle and its ancient temples, the series of myths pertaining to its dualistic patron deity, Pachacamac, related by Spanish eyewitnesses and other Colonial writers (e.g., Calancha 1976[1638]; Cieza 1932[1554]; Cobo 1964[1653]; Dulanto 2001; Duviols 1967, 1983; Estete 1985[1534]; Gisbert 1990; Rostworowski 1973, 1992), and the number of archaeological projects conducted thus far (see below; also Daggett 1988; Shimada 1991) might give the impression that we have an in-depth understanding of the site, its institutions, and population. However, since Uhle's (1903) work, most archaeological works at the site have been inadequately published and/or limited in research scope, scale, and duration, and been overly concerned with highly visible, late pre-Hispanic monumental, elite and/or religious constructions.

Jiménez (1985; Jiménez and Bueno 1970; also Marcone 2000) and Bueno (1982, 1983) excavated at various parts of the site partially defining the extent and nature of Lima occupation and possible significance of the Pyramids with Ramps of the Ychsma culture. Subsequently, Paredes (1985, 1988; Paredes and Franco 1985, 1987) and Franco (1993, 1998; Franco and Paredes 2000) excavated the top of the Pachacamac and Old Pachacamac temples, defining their construction sequences and associated architectural transformations and offering caches that spanned the end of the EIP through the MH. Most recently, Eeckhout (1995, 1999, 2000) has conducted a sustained investigation into Pyramids with Ramps. He has argued that they were the palaces and mausoleums of successive paramount lords of the local Ychsma polity, emulating contemporaneous Ciudadelas at the Chimú capital of Chan Chan. Eeckhout (1999, 2000) sees a hierarchy of palatial constructions with the most imposing ones at Pachacamac and smaller versions dispersed in the hinterland further inland such as at Pampa de las Flores in the lower Lurín. He rejects the ethnohistorically derived model that these constructions were the temples cum embassies of provincial ethnic polities that worshipped the Pachacamac deity (cf. e.g., Jiménez 1985).

In regard to the state of Pachacamac archaeology, Bonavia (1985: 137; also Shimada 1991:LV) lamented that "It is a great pity that work has been concentrated in a single sector [I] of Pachacamac, while the rest remains covered by sand, partly destroyed forever, and now spoiled by poorly conceived reconstructions." His observation remains valid. More recently, Kaulicke (2000:313) expressed the same sentiment, urging for "More investigations . . . directed at specific social conditions" in which Pachacamac as a religious center operated.

A similar criticism of a highly skewed sample extends to artifacts from the site. There has been undue reliance on limited samples of funerary pottery (mostly looted or derived from distant areas; e.g. Knobloch 1989; Lavallée 1966; Schmidt 1929; see Shimada 1991 and Kaulicke 2000 for a critical review of the literature). This is particularly true of MH Pachacamac. We do not know by whom or where Pachacamac style pottery bearing the diagnostic "Pachacamac griffins" was made (see Shimada 1991:XXVI; Knobloch 1989, 2000; Kaulicke 2000; Menzel 1964, 1977). To date there is no evidence that such pottery was produced at Pachacamac.

(Please see "Reccommended Readings" for details of references cited in the text above).