Under the guidance of Dr. Jonathan Haas, Matthew Piscitelli will excavate a series of small-scale temples at the Late Archaic (3,000-1,800 B.C.) site of Huaricanga in the Fortaleza Valley, Peru to explore variation in religious practices in the evolving complex polities on the Peruvian coast. The study of ancient religions presents unique challenges to the archaeologist. In the absence of writing, religious ideas tend to be expressed only indirectly and symbolically. Those indirect and symbolic manifestations of religion can also be difficult, even impossible to accurately interpret. However, in the emergence of the earliest complex societies in Andean South America, the ceremonial behavior associated with religion is broadly manifested in two very different architectural complexes: monumental, public platform mounds and associated circular courts and much smaller scale, private temple complexes.
During the Late Archaic Period, the first sedentary agricultural communities developed along the north central coast of Peru, where inhabitants constructed the earliest monumental architecture in the New World. In addition, recent preliminary excavations at Huaricanga suggest the presence of much smaller scale temple structures that bear many similarities to a particular type of ceremonial architecture found exclusively in the Andean highlands known as Mito temples. The presence of a Mito temple on the coast would challenge a 40-year-old understanding of the Mito Tradition and its associated rituals. Mr. Piscitelli will apply innovative techniques such as pollen analysis, micromorphology, and X-Ray Fluorescence to reconstruct ancient ritual practices. Furthermore, this project's thorough radiocarbon dating program will situate these small-scale temples at Huaricanga within a regional chronological context.
This research will clarify cultural connections between coastal and highland Peru during the Late Archaic Period by looking at the nature and chronology of possible Mito temples on the coast. Such comparisons will explore an instance of ancient social interaction on a regional scale within the context of the prehistoric Andes. The data collected from this fieldwork will also enhance understanding of ceremonial activities beyond the large platform mounds and sunken circular courts that have previously garnered much attention. In addition, this research will test models concerning the development of social inequality within emergent complex polities. Through a better understanding of ritual practices we can investigate how early leaders negotiated the social milieu through ritual performance and, as a result, we can develop theoretical models relating religion and society.
The project will have a positive impact on the community surrounding Huaricanga. Team members will distribute written information to the town such as site maps and annual reports published in Spanish. The project is expected to yield employment opportunities for the local community since workmen will be hired to assist in excavation and the initial processing of artifacts. "Community" days at the site and school tours will stimulate interest in the local cultural heritage and raise awareness about contemporary issues that are particularly salient in Peru such as looting. The project will also continue the tradition of strong collaboration between Peruvian and American scholars. In addition, thesis and publication opportunities will also be available to project members and collaborators while the research will allow Mr. Piscitelli to fulfill the requirements of his Ph.D. dissertation.
Introduction The study of ancient religions presents unique challenges to the archaeologist, particularly in the absence of writing whereby religious ideas are only expressed indirectly and symbolically. These indirect and symbolic manifestations of religion can also be difficult, even impossible, to accurately interpret. However, in the emergence of the earliest complex societies in South America the ceremonial behavior associated with religion is broadly manifested in two very different architectural complexes: (1) monumental, public platform mounds and associated circular courts, and (2) much smaller and more private temple complexes. Under the guidance of Dr. Jonathan Haas, Matthew Piscitelli has used funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to excavate a series of small-scale temples at the Late Archaic (3000-1800 B.C.) site of Huaricanga in the Fortaleza Valley of Peru. These excavations, coupled with modern scientific techniques that can reconstruct ancient religious rituals, have allowed Mr. Piscitelli to explore variation in religious practices in the evolving complex polities on the Peruvian coast. Research Questions The data produced during this NSF-sponsored fieldwork allowed Mr. Piscitelli to address a series of specific research questions: 1.) What kinds of activities occurred in these temples? 2.) What changes took place in the construction and activities in these temple structures? 3.) To what extent were the ritual activities standardized or formalized? 4.) What do these small-scale, private religious rituals tell us about the role of religion and control of religious knowledge in the development of early complex polities? Project Outcomes The NSF-sponsored fieldwork has resulted in the following project outcomes: A successful two month field season at the site of Huaricanga in the Fortaleza Valley of Peru. Excavations uncovered over 40 ancient floors and 30 construction fills dating to the Late Archaic Period (3000-1800 B.C.) as well as five distinct temple structures. Radiocarbon dating revealed that these temples are the earliest of their kind (known as the "Mito architectural tradition" in the literature) anywhere in Peru. These findings dramatically change our understanding of this architectural canon including its origin place, which was initially thought to reside in the Andean highlands. The application of innovative scientific techniques (e.g. X-Ray Fluorescence spectrometry, micromorphology, and pollen analysis) has revealed traces of past human behaviors that would have been undetectable with traditional archaeological methods. Due to the success of the research project, this suite of methodologies will hopefully become widely applied in future investigations of ancient ceremonial architecture. By reconstructing ancient religious rituals over time it has become apparent that early leaders in Peru created a standardized set of ceremonial activities as a base of power in order to legitimize existing social inequalities. A successful two month laboratory session resulted in the conservation of over 3,000 artifacts that were eventually shipped to Peruâ€™s National Institute of Culture for safe-keeping as important pieces of cultural heritage. During the course of the project, 10 local community members have been trained in archaeological techniques and employed over a period of time when jobs tend to be unavailable (i.e. in between planting and harvesting seasons). As a project field co-director, a young professional archaeologist named Carmela Alarcón Ledesma has received valuable training. This American-Peruvian collaboration has also strengthened institutional relationships (between The Field Museum/University of Illinois at Chicago and Peruvian museums/research facilities) at a very local and specific capacity. Tours of the site for community members (of all ages) and local government officials have made individuals aware of the important cultural heritage at the site. The research has also formed the basis of numerous professional publications, conference presentations, informational documents/specials for the general public (e.g. The Huffington Post and National Geographic), and Mr. Piscitelliâ€™s Ph.D. dissertation.