This project has two major research objectives:

  1. First, we seek to clarify cultural connections between coastal and highland Peru during the Late Archaic Period by looking at the nature and chronology of Mito-like temples on the coast.
  2. Second, we hope to contribute to the larger anthropological issue of the emergence of social inequality and the early exercise of power by understanding the relationship between religion and cultural complexity within an emergent complex polity.

Schematic representation of an idealized Mito temple in use.

Archaeologist Elisabeth Bonnier first defined the Mito Architectural Tradition in the 1990s based on her work at the highland site of Piruru. According to Bonnier, a Mito temple is a Late Archaic Period ceremonial structure consisting of a single room with a two-level floor, niched walls, a central hearth, and a falso piso or “false floor” (i.e. a layer of sediment ceremonially deposited underneath the floor of the temple). Similar structures have been found by archaeologists at other highland Peruvian sites such as Kotosh and La Galgada. Until recently, archaeologists have assumed that Mito temples and the religious practices that took place within them were a uniquely highland phenomena. However, the discovery of a series of Mito-like temples at the coastal site of Huaricanga has questioned our current understanding of the distribution of the Mito Tradition.

Through a comprehensive research program that utilizes traditional archaeological methodologies (excavation and radiocarbon dating) and innovative techniques (pollen analysis, micromorphology, and X-Ray Fluorescence) this research will reconstruct ancient ritual activities. While doing so, it will also shed light on possible religious ties between the coast and adjacent highland regions during the Late Archaic Period. The data collected from this fieldwork will enhance our understanding of ceremonial activities beyond the large platform mounds and sunken circular courts that have previously garnered so much attention. A specific comparison between early small-scale ceremonial architecture at Huaricanga and the highland Mito temple sites will provide insights into the inter-regional dynamics associated with emerging cultural complexity in the Andes during the Late Archaic Period. Such comparisons will explore an instance of ancient social interaction on a regional scale within the context of the prehistoric Andes.

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More broadly, this research will test models concerning the development of social inequality within emergent complex polities. The emergence of social inequality is important to understanding the evolution of the hierarchical structure of human society manifested in unequal access to goods, information, and decision making. Cross-cultural research has revealed that while an economic surplus is often a necessary impetus for political transformation, controlling ideology is what legitimizes authority and leadership. Rituals provide a mechanism for the shaping of ideology as well as a source of authority for those who create, control, or participate in them. Therefore, through a better understanding of ritual practices we can investigate how leaders within a context of emergent socio-political complexity negotiated the social milieu through ritual performance and, as a result, we can develop theoretical models relating ritual and society. The superimposed series of religious structures at Huaricanga allows us to look at changes in religious practices over time.

Cross-section profile showing the series of Mito-like temples at Huaricanga.


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