Who Was Who in the Huari Empire*

Institute of Andean Studies 33rd annual meeting, January 8-9, 1993, UC-Berkeley
© Patricia Knobloch, 1993

*The following text was a 20 minute paper with some additional comments at the time and presented without references. Many slides could not be reproduced here so references are provided as possible.
Continuing research on this topic can be found at: Who Was Who in the Middle Horizon Andean Prehistory?

The Huari state is defined by an urban capital and satellite administrative centers located in various locales in the Andes. The Huari urban capital is located 10 km north of the modern city of Ayacucho. The core area of this Huari city consists of numerous large walled enclosures, streets, ceremonial areas, underground drainage systems, households and is filled with 3-4 meters of habitation refuse: all attributes that are indicative of the Andes’ earliest example of a city. The remains of habitation surround the urban core for another 10 -15 sq km on the mesa tops and valley bottoms. The satellite administrative centers exhibit well-planned, large rectangular buildings with household habitation areas against their peripheral walls.

Though some Huari sites can be identified by large rectangular buildings, there are others that are identified by random buildings or small habitation areas (i.e., Honco Pampa, Cerro Baul, Pacheco, Huaca del Loro, Chiqna Jota, Ayapata, Conchopata, Maymi). In all cases, the evidence that is relied upon to certify that these places were inhabited, controlled or visited by the Huari is pottery. The pottery is usually found as broken vessels and sherds with painted designs that can be, unquestionably, identified as Huari art. However conclusive the evidence for identifying Huari sites, there are still questions as to what the presence of Huari style architecture and artifacts demonstrates. These questions or hypotheses vary in the degree to which Huari politically controlled populations outside the immediate Huari urban site.

On the liberal side, Huari is viewed as a vast, dominating empire that was experimenting with resource storage and redistribution management. On the conservative side, Huari is viewed as a lonely yet large urban trade center that managed broad scale partnerships. In all cases, the politico-religious behavior of these highlanders is viewed as a powerful manipulatory strategy to entice or to coerce Andean populations to participate in this new social environment. Why has the evidence been interpreted in such varying ways?

I believe that the debate exists because of the nature of the evidence, e.g., building styles and artistic styles. Such evidence is indeed very powerful in identifying archaeological remains as belonging to the Middle Horizon as opposed to another time period and such evidence helps to identify Huari social interaction. But what it does not do for us is to identify the players involved; who were the Huari, who were the non-Huari and what was the result of their interaction or, in other words, what type of relationship did they have. Moreover, the buildings and artifacts attest to only the economic and social behavior of Huari related populations. In researching a Huari site, one can estimate its population, discuss its storage functions, point out its habitation and ceremonial areas, and discover evidence of contact with other populations; but, one cannot really describe its politics (religious indoctrination or coercive militarization?), its leadership behavior (benevolent priest or warrior king?) or its political status with other Huari related sites (trade partners or conquerors with conquered?). Politically we can only guess and, thus, the varying interpretations persist.

I suggest that one line of evidence may help to settle the debate and my paper today addresses my ongoing research along this line. I suggest that the politics of the day was documented in the artifacts that display individuals, be they the leaders or the followers. By analysis, such artistic documentation not only can help to identify the individual, but establish the spatial and temporal distribution and, when possible, the relationship of a particular individual with others.

To preface this line of research, I must acknowledge that a good deal has been written about the role of the individual in archaeological research and how impossible it seems to actually prove the identity of a single person. In light of this theoretical quagmire, I prefer to approach my identification of the individual as an “analytical unit” and to use Charles Redman’s terminology of personal identity as the “analytical individual” in order to delineate and describe the evidence. Thus it is fair to argue that an “analytical individual” may represent a single individual or a social group. [Note: the term, agent, would be used currently, 2002]

To review the archaeological remains, one can easily come to the conclusion that Huari is indeed a complex society and therefore, may have offered many political positions and social identities. Figure1. Huari Individuals
Figure 2. Azangaro Individuals I have not found spatial and temporal evidence for all of these individuals that would place and date them beyond the one point in space and time that a single artifact documents. But I have enough examples of a 5 of them to show broad spatial and temporal existence, and I will introduce you to these “analytical individuals”.

The earliest images of Huari individuals come from an excavated 2 x 2 m unit at Huari that exposed 35 layers of habitation refuse. Figure 3. Excavation Unit EB4-2-200 (Knobloch 1983) The lowest levels contained floor and wall remains associated with the Early Intermediate Huarpa culture. In the layers above the Huarpa floors, the pottery style changes to display more curvilinear and colorful Nasca-like designs as the Huari population was interacting with south coast populations. In the layers that contained pottery with transitional designs from the early Huari style development we find images of the early Huari individual.

The image shows that a headband with chevrons was worn as well as face painting of rectangular panels on the cheeks. These panels were divided by vertical bands. Figure 4. Huari Individuals with chevron band headdresses and pendent rectangle on cheeks (Knobloch 1983) The panels were also painted on the pottery. Figure 5. Huari pottery with pendent rectangle on cheeks (Knobloch 1983) I suggest that the display of such panels or rectangles with vertical band represented social or ethnic identity. Associated with the early appearance of the Huari was the appearance of abstract animal iconography that typifies the early Huari religion, such as, the Ayacucho serpent and stinger animal. Soon after the appearance of the chevron band headdress individuals at Huari, we find the Huari appearing in the Rio Huatanay valley where they began building the site of Pikillaqta. It may have been the exploration of this area to the far southeast reaching as far as Lake Titicaca and the Moquegua Valley on the far south coast, that allowed Huari to come into contact with either Pucara cultural remains that display an elaborate iconography which also produced abstract winged animal icons and images of a central deity holding staffs or, possibly, populations in the area that retained the Pucara legends or religious mythology of staff bearing deities. Figure 6. Griffins mapped to demonstrate the widespread depiction of similar mythical iconography

In any event, the next image of the Huari with chevron band headbands appears on large face-neck jars found in an offering deposit at the site of Conchopata, 10 km south of Huari. These individuals have very elaborate cheek decorations and hump-backed animal icons painted on the chest panel. The body of the vessel is painted with the mythical vision of a central deity holding staffs and attended by numerous, abstract winged animal icons. Thus the mythology is being developed in some verbal manner that lacks the detail that we find on later Huari artifacts, such as those in the Robles Moqo style from Huari and Pacheco.

What I find most interesting about the distribution of individuals with chevron headbands and rectangular cheek panels is the next location, the central coast. (Schmidt 1929:Fig.283 right) Contact between Huari and the central coast is documented by the appearance of Nievería style pottery in the Huari excavated unit described earlier in association with the earliest appearance of Huari with chevron headbands. Also, the depiction of the Huari style Ayacucho serpent was painted on a Nievería vessel (Menzel 1964:Fig.17). Thus, it is not too surprising to find Huari individuals represented on central coast pottery, such as Pachacamac style pottery. Though this pottery is suppose to date to Epoch 2, what we may be seeing on this Pachacamac style pottery is a documentation of the Huari who visited this religious site at an earlier time.

Another area where early images of Middle Horizon individuals can be found is at the site of Pacheco in the Nasca area. I will introduce you to three individuals associated with this area. The first image displays an individual with two bumps on the headdress. Figure 7. Individual with 2 bumps protruding from forehead like rounded horns This style of adornment occurred earlier on Nasca pottery and its spatial distribution would suggest that we are seeing a south coast group or ethnic identity. (Anton 1962: Fig.107) This bump-headed individual appears to be rather militaristic with trophy heads and weapons. By Epoch 2 the appearance is rather supernatural and, therefore, may only be representative of ancestral legend (Lumbreras 1974: Fig.166).

Associated with the bump-headed individual is an individual with a headdress that displays a rayed sun faceFigure 8. Individual with sun face with rays on headdress This individual is also found to be somewhat militaristic. More interestingly it is found in a relationship with the Huari central deity as being overpowered by the deity. (Lapiner 1976:Figs. 580-581) It also has a coastal distribution suggesting non-Huari origins.

A similar scenario appears to have happened to another south coast individual found at Pacheco. Figure 9. Individual with elaborate facial decoration of step-frets and quadrant pattern (Menzel 1977: Fig. 130; Tello 1942: Lam. XXIII, right; Anton 1972: Fig.113) This individual wore a diamond band headdress, tie-dyed tunic and a very elaborately painted face: half in small squares of step designs and the other half divided into four quadrants. This individual is found on different artifacts, such as a leather pouch (Lapiner 1976: Fig.572) and on a wooden snuff bottle where he has also been overpowered by a Huari deity.

What happened next to some of these south coast individual is that they were not only overpowered by a Huari religious force but also politically adapted into Huari society. The new image of Huari individuals shows them wearing the 4-cornered hat as an emblem of elite power. I date the appearance of the 4-cornered hat to the transition from Epoch 1 to Epoch 2 for several reasons: 1) it does not appear on images of individuals in Epoch 1 refuse; and, 2) sherds from Wendell Bennett’s Huari collection housed at Yale University’s Peabody Museum can be associated with three examples of 4-cornered hat individuals. The last example is of most importance since it depicts the individual with the step-fret face from Pacheco. This temporally long and spatially broad distribution may indicate that such a depiction represents a social group identity rather than a single individual. At Huari, one 4-cornered hat individual seems dominant. Here the individual has a rectangular panel of x’s on the cheek and forehead. Figure 10. Individual with vertical band of x's from forehead down cheekThe x-cheeked individual occurs on several sherds from Huari, on large urns from a ceramic offering deposit discovered by Julio Tello in 1942 at the Conchopata site and on a few textiles from the south coast.

One of these textiles is an elaborate tapestry from Ica (Uhle 1913: Fig.4; Menzel 1977: Fig. 130 (reversed)).I was able to study this textile at the Berkeley museum and used this textile to begin indexing Huari individuals with letters. Figure 11. Schematic layout of individual images found on Ica textile and labelled alphabetically for further research I began with the larger images in the middle of the textile and lettered them alphabetically from left to right, then across the top and bottom. The scene depicts a duality or a confrontation of Huari individuals. It is not too surprising to see this scene as a confrontation since the step-fret faced individual (Person A) has early south coast origins at Pacheco and the distribution of images of the x-cheeked individual (Person B) indicates highland origins. The textile may be documenting a bringing together of two Huari factions. The individuals are being forcefully held face-to-face by griffins, a powerful pan-Andean religious icon. See Figure 6. Griffins mapped to demonstrate the widespread depiction of similar mythical iconography

To summarize, the distribution of images of “analytical individuals” provides important evidence for political interaction among the populations at various Huari sites. If Middle Horizon sites were politically autonomous, then the inventory of images of Middle Horizon individuals would not include the Huari images. On the other hand, their presence in the artifact images at Middle Horizon sites suggests political involvement of the Huari. For example, Pikillaqta Epoch 1 material provides evidence of strong Huari ethnic identity in the use of painted cheek designs and the wearing of chevron band headbands. Azangaro and Jincamocco material displays numerous individuals, as yet unidentified with the site of Huari, thereby suggesting some local autonomy. However, at both sites at least one example of the step-fret faced individual was found which allows for the possibility of some Huari involvement at these sites. Pacheco remains contained individuals with south coast origins who fought with and were eventually subdued by Huari’s religious and political force. Thus, the study of the spatial and temporal distribution of images of Huari “analytical individuals” can provide further evidence of the political unity or disunity of the Huari within the Huari state.


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Knobloch, Patricia J.
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Lapiner, Alan
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Lumbreras, Luis G.
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Schmidt, Max
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