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The Empire of the Ancestors: The Wari of the Middle Horizon

May 7  –  8, 2021
Participants discuss and evaluate the role of ancestral veneration in Wari expansionism.

This event is closed; no further attendees can be admitted at this time. Please note, this event is being held partially in Spanish.


Wari (ca. 500–1000 CE) was one of the earliest expansionist states in the Americas and laid the groundwork of statecraft for the Inka empire. Wari imperial expansion has been linked to environmental changes associated with the El Niño cycle that left the Ayacucho heartland with drought and the need for productive farmland elsewhere. Moving into fertile territories required appeasement of the ancestors who ensured the continuous flow of water, which sustained crops and life. This colloquium addresses the role of ancestral veneration in Wari expansionism. The Wari cherished their ancestors, keeping them in close proximity in sub-floor chambers and tombs, which permitted offerings from and communication with the living. The tight relationship between the living and the dead permeated all aspects of Wari culture and is exemplified on a grand scale in imposing mausoleums. Wari ancestral shrines and oracle centers may have played a much larger role than administrative nodes and waystations, scattered across the Andean landscape. The ancestors were represented as effigy vessels, many of which were made to be ceremoniously smashed and buried, as was done with small stones, shell figurines, or beads—cached in the ground like the deceased ancestors they signified. The intriguing evidence for ritualized practice at Wari sites outweighs the more conventional evidence of imperial rulership. Did a Wari ancestor cult propagate messages of power and subordination across the Andes to maintain the delicate balance between the ancestors and Wari’s ability to prosper from the earth? This and other questions regarding the role of ancestor veneration for Wari’s pan-Andean presence are addressed during this colloquium. The colloquium is organized into several sessions, each of which features a designated presenter and several discussants. Presentations are made available to attendees digitally prior to the event; the sessions are solely dedicated to discussion.


  • Mary Glowacki (Pre-Columbian Archaeological Research Group)
  • Anita Cook (Catholic University of America)


Introductory Session: Background of Wari Studies

  • Presenter: Luis Lumbreras (Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos, Lima, Peru)
  • Discussant: Martha Cabrera (Universidad Nacional de San Cristóbal de Huamanga)

Session 1: The Ancestral Life of Huari: Reevaluating the Capital of the Wari Empire

  • Presenter: Jose Ochatoma Paravicino (Universidad Nacional de San Cristóbal de Huamanga)
  • Discussants: Silvana Rosenfeld (High Point University), Geoffrey Lawrence Taylor (University of California Berkeley), Tiffiny Tung (Vanderbilt University), Anita Cook (Catholic University)

Session 2: Wari in the Northern Sierra and on the Coast: Its Ideological Intent

  • Presenter: Miłosz Giersz (University of Warsaw)
  • Discussants: John Topic (Trent University), Shinya Watanabe (Nanzan University, Nagoya, Japan), Edgar Bracamonte (Universidad Nacional de Trujillo, Peru), Patricia Chirinos (University of California, Santa Barbara)

Session 3: The Central and South Coast and Highlands: Wari Monumentality, Ritual, and Purpose

  • Presenter: Francesca Fernandini (Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú)
  • Discussants: Denise Pozzi Escot (Ministerio de Cultura, Lurin, Peru), Rommel Angeles (Muséo de sitio Pachacamac, Ministerio de Cultura, Lurin, Peru), Christina Conlee (Texas State University), Ryan Williams (Field Museum, Chicago), Susana Arce (Museo Regional de Ica “Adolfo Bermúdez Jenkins,” Ministerio de Cultura, Ica, Peru), Johny Isla (Ministerio de Cultura, Nazca-Pampa, Peru)

Session 4: The Wari Foothold: The Southern Highlands

  • Presenter: Mary Glowacki (Pre-Columbian Archaeological Research Group)
  • Discussants: Brian Bauer (University of Illinois at Chicago), Frank Meddens (Pre-Construct Archaeology Limited), Bill Sillar (University College London), Julinho Zapata (Universidad Nacional de San Antonio Abad del Cusco, Peru)

Session 5: Wari’s Far Southern Reaches and its Porous Borders: The Far South Coast and Sierra

  • Presenter: Donna Nash (University of North Carolina at Greensboro)
  • Discussants: Justin Jennings (Royal Ontario Museum), Ulrike Matthies Green (Orange Coast College, Costa Mesa), Paul Goldstein (University of California San Diego)

Final Session: Discussion and Critique

  • Presenters: William Isbell (Binghamton University), George Lau (University of East Anglia)
Detail from a polychrome Wari Kero, PC.B.609. Photo © Dumbarton Oaks