An archaeological site under investigation in a Lima suburb since 1981 has yielded an interesting find. The mummified bodies of an adult and child have been excavated in what archaeologists believe is evidence of a Huari burial ritual.
The Huari (Wari) culture flourished along the seaboard of what is now modern-day Peru between approximately 500 and 900AD before experiencing a rapid decline reminiscent of the demise of many other pre-Columbian civilizations.
Like their Inca successors, the Huari are not believed to have had a written language. Whether the Huari used quipu – an intricate recording and census-taking system using strands of llama hair – as the Inca did remains to be seen, yet cultural similarities between the two Peruvian civilizations are emerging thanks to archaeology.
For instance, mummification played an important role in Inca culture. Rulers (the Sapa Inca) would be mummified and preserved after death, as sometimes would be important noblemen, religious figures and warriors. During their burials, these important figures would often be accompanied by sacrificed, mummified children as an offering to the Gods. The prevalence of mummification in pre-Columbian Andean society is emphasised by the Huari finds and suggests the Inca adopted some of the traits of their predecessors.
Other archaeological sites are similarly illuminating. The Huari Ruins, the presumed site of the former Huari capital, provide evidence of a sophisticated and keenly-planned city development aligned to the local topography. As the Spaniards would find when entering Cuzco in 1433, the Inca would adopt similar methods. Likewise, there is evidence that the Huari whitewashed their walls with plaster, another technique practiced by the Inca to protect their buildings.
In the absence of indigenous written languages, historians of pre-Columbian civilizations have often been reliant on the works of the Spanish chroniclers of the sixteenth century. Often based on poorly-translated indigenous stories and highly-subjective anecdotal evidence, these works are fascinating and potentially rich sources of historical information. Yet they cannot be deemed as comprehensive or, necessarily, completely accurate, and archaeology can aid in filling in the historical gaps.
Whilst archaeology is by its nature interpretive and subjective, it should not be ignored by mainstream historians, many of whom question the validity of archaeological findings. The Huari excavations over the past few decades have revealed remarkable influences on the later Inca Empire and have offered an indication of the continuity between the Andean civilizations. This is particularly important, as it is often assumed than rising empires would suppress the cultures of their predecessors as a means of asserting control.
Restricting ourselves to written, archival evidence alone is simply not sufficient.