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Keys to the Empire: Wari Religion and Politics in City and Country

The Oak Room, Fellowship House
April 25, 2019
06:00 PM to 08:00 PM
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Pre-Columbian Studies Public Lecture, Anita G. Cook

As the first empire in the ancient Andes, the Wari (550–1000 CE) is an outlier, with characteristics that resist easy definition. Variation in Wari settlements both in the highlands and on the coast suggests a departure from classical models of urban-focused empires. Did the Wari have a religious foundation, and might this help explain the diverse nature of Wari sites? Was a landscape of temples, shrines, and pilgrimage centers responsible for the earliest Wari settlements? This lecture explores an alternative view of Wari centers as largely nonurban—while cities did exist, their role, activities, and functions remain open to debate. A brief examination of different Wari-affiliated sites reveals how vastly different architectural and ceremonial approaches characterized the Wari experiment in empire-building. Wari architecture at the capital and in many provincial centers is largely devoted to non-domestic ceremony and ritual. Communal feasts accompanied political and religious events, and these in turn were the locus of elaborate gatherings and votive offerings. A close examination of the objects from controlled excavations, such as large human-like face-neck jars, reveals that vessels played a vital role during feasting and could end up as votive offerings themselves.

Anita G. Cook is chair and professor of anthropology at the Catholic University of America, and received her doctorate from the State University of New York at Binghamton. Her work centers on the lesser-known Wari (Huari) Empire of the Central Andes, with a recent focus on cultural heritage and preventing the illicit exportation of archaeological and colonial material culture. As director of the Lower Ica Valley Archaeological Project and codirector of the Conchopata Archaeological Project, she researches the emergence of early Andean states and empires (Wari and Tiwanaku in particular) with a focus on material culture, the visual arts, and iconography. Two of her most important publications are Ritual Sacrifice in Ancient Peru, with Elizabeth Benson, and Wari y Tiwanaku: entre el estilo y la imagen.

Major portion of a tapestry tunic, Wari, 600–1000 CE. Pre-Columbian Collection, Dumbarton Oaks, Washington, DC.