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Tambo Colorado: A Coastal Inca Settlement

Jean-Pierre Protzen, University of California, Berkeley, Fellow 2009–2010, Fall

I applied for a Dumbarton Oaks Fellowship because I wanted to peruse the resources of the Dumbarton Oaks Library to clarify and refine, if not resolve, a number of issues pertaining to my research on the Inca site of Tambo Colorado. One of the issues I now have a firm hold on is the history of previous work at and on Tambo Colorado. Several references I found at Dumbarton Oaks and at the American Museum of Natural History during a short visit to New York have helped me consolidate this part of my research. Another issue I was able to clarify is the chronology of the conquest of the Pisco Valley (wherein lies Tambo Colorado). Rereading several of the Spanish chroniclers and comparing their accounts, I am now fairly confident that a reasonable argument can be made that conquest happened in the early phases of the expansion of the Inca Empire under the reign of the Inca Pachacuti. Other readings helped to confirm the broader chronology for the occupation of the Pisco Valley dating back to about 800 BCE and revealing several phases of occupation and abandonment in pre-colonial times.

Several researchers have proposed that the various colors on the walls of Tambo Colorado were more than simple decorations, that they had some symbolic meaning. Although I have not found any means to decipher this symbolism, I have come upon several passages in various sources that colors played an important role in ritual offerings, social relations, and as identity markers. I re-surveyed the literature on Inca architecture and site planning in search of comparative Inca settlements and identification of building types. Yet the function, or functions, Tambo Colorado fulfilled in the Inca conquest and administration of the conquered territories still eludes me. I have a good grip on the architecture and the organization of the site, but this does not answer my questions. Was Tambo Colorado a tampu (way-station), an administrative center, or both, or something entirely different? It is my current view that this issue, if it can be resolved at all, will require systematic archaeological excavations, a task which I have to relegate to other researchers.

In addition, I have been revising and restructuring the outline of my planned book, written drafts of three out of six chapters, and very rough drafts of the remaining three. In conclusion, my stay at Dumbarton Oaks has been very productive and I am confident that I will be able to finish writing my book knowing that I have covered all the bases to the best of my knowledge.