Lower Majes Valley Archaeological Project


Excavations: June 2 – July 25

Lab Analysis: July 30 – September 19


Cassandra S. (Beth) Koontz, JD, MA, Vanderbilt University; beth.koontz@gmail.com

Manuel Garcia Márquez, Lic., Universidad Católica de Santa Maria, Arequipa


The Middle Horizon (AD 600 – 1100) was a time of rapid cultural change and increased urbanization. During this era, the Wari Empire, one of the first in the New World, emerged from their heartland in the Ayacucho Basin to dominate trade networks, religious, and political practices throughout the prehistoric Andes. In some regions, they ruled through violent, militaristic conquest and set up administrative colonies from which to control subordinate communities. In other regions, Wari seems to have established partnerships with local authorities which allowed them to dominate cultural practices in regions beyond their heartland. Throughout Arequipa, in the Wari hinterland, a great quantity of Wari-style artifacts have been documented. However, is unclear whether these artifacts and styles arrived with the establishment of Wari administrative colonies or whether these artifacts arrived through trade.

The Majes Valley is located in the Department of Arequipa, in the chaupiyungas zone, which comprises mid-valley desert hills at 500-2000 meters above sea level carved out by wide rushing glacial river waters from the highland Colca Valley to the East, and the Andagua Valley (Valley of the Volcanoes) to the West. The valley bottom was valuable for its agricultural fertility, and Majes inhabitants likely controlled trade and control points for water passing between the highlands and the coast. The Majes Valley is famous for the rock art site of Toro Muerto (one of the largest in the world), where over 500 different petroglyphs have been inscribed into the rock faces scattered throughout the white desert flats. Images depict masked figures dancing, llama mating and sacrifices, anamorphic figures taking trophy heads, feasting and drinking rituals, and worship of ancestral huacas or mummy bundles. It is difficult to date the rock art, but Peruvian scholars suspect the rocks were carved continuously over thousands of years, with a majority of them stylistically consistent with Wari-era themes.

 The cemetery of Uraca is located 2 km away from Toro Muerto, and presents us with an exciting opportunity to contextualize the Toro Muerto art by reconstructing pre-Wari and Wari-era lifeways in the Majes Valley through bioarchaeological and archaeological research. We have observed an unusual demographic pattern at Uraca Sector 1, the closest to Toro Muerto: almost all human crania on the surface of the site are adult males, and 80% of those males have 1 or more wound on the front of their skull that healed prior to death. This pattern indicates they were involved in a type of violent encounters where they faced their opponent, perhaps warfare, or perhaps tinku, a type of festive combat practiced in the prehistoric (and modern) Andes. Two trophy skulls have been documented at the site, one crafted in the style of the Nasca people from the coast, and another in the style of the Wari Empire. La Ramada style ceramic vessels have been documented at the site which suggest it was in use just before the onset of the Wari era. However, we have also documented a Wari tie-dye style textile, which is similar to those dating to the Wari era from other sites in the region. Excavations and bioarchaeological analysis of human skeletons and associated artifacts at Uraca will allow us to characterize pre-Wari health, diet, and violence-related trauma in the valley. We will compare our data to existing Wari-era data from the valley (Jennings 2013; Knudson and Tung 2011; Tung 2007a; Tung 2007b; Tung 2012; Tung 2013b; Yépez Álvarez 2013) in order to understand how health, diets, and the social contexts of violence changed with the onset of Wari intrusion into the area.


This is not a field school, as students will not receive credit for participation. However, students will learn techniques for site mapping, excavation, conservation, and analysis of artifacts and human skeletal remains. Students will assist in all aspects of the excavation and lab analysis. This project is focused primarily on recording bioarchaeological data such as mortuary architecture, grave goods, skeletal pathology, and selecting samples for paleodietary reconstruction and biogeochemical analysis. However, we anticipate excavating ceramics, wood objects, textiles, metals, and paleobotanical remains, and welcome independent student research projects on these materials (as well as human and animal bone). The directors will lecture, when appropriate, to train students on proper procedures and techniques and provide background on research questions. There will be no formal reading requirements, but we hope students will be self-motivated to read the literature pertinent to our excavation in order to contribute their informed interpretations to our discoveries.

We will open approximately 8 excavation units in two sectors, and approximately 10-12 test pits to establish the site’s limits. Depending on experience and interest level, we will assign sector and unit chiefs. Students will rotate through duties initially, but depending on interests, we can arrange for students to focus more on mapping, photography, conservation, artifact registration, etc. Interested students are encouraged to take on research projects in consultation with the directors for presentation at conferences in the US and Peru.


There are no specific requirements for participation in PAU. Experience in speaking and writing Spanish, photography, ArcMap, AutoCAD, archaeological excavation, human osteology, zooarchaeology, and bioarchaeological analysis will be useful, but not required. Students will need to be able to enter data on paper forms, excel data sheets, and be able to consult reference books and each other to organize our inventory, code, photograph, and analyze artifacts and bones.


The Majes Valley is at a relatively low elevation (approximately 800-1000 masl). Arequipa, the closest city (and the second largest city in Peru), is located at 2700 masl. It is rare that travelers experience altitude sickness in Arequipa and its surroundings, but descending to a lower elevation (such as the Majes Valley) and consuming stimulants (caffeine, tea, etc.) is the cure for this ailment. In the Majes, bug bites are the most common annoyance, and students should be prepared for some itching bug bites as well as hiking and working in dry heat during the day, and dry cold at night. We will make every effort to provide hot showers during the working week, but this is not guaranteed.


Students will arrive in Lima and go through customs. At customs, where the passport is stamped, request a stamp for “noventa días” or 90 days. This is the maximum amount of time in Peru you can request. Upon your entrance and departure from Lima customs, if asked, reply that you are a student traveling for tourism. Do not indicate you are working on a site; you will be volunteering, and “working” requires special visa status. After passing through the passport check, you will claim your bags and go through a gate where you will push a button. If the button sends a red signal, your bags will be checked, and if you get a green signal, you will pass through without any check.

Students arrive at the Arequipa International Airport, or by a 15 hour bus from Lima at the Arequipa Terrapuerto (contact Beth for more information about bus travel, but you can buy bus tickets on Cruz del Sur bus lines or other comfortable overnight buses for about $60 USD once you arrive in Lima). DO NOT BRING FRESH FRUIT WITH YOU BY PLANE OR BUS, OR CONSUME IT BEFORE ARRIVAL. Because of agricultural pests, transporting fruits and veggies between zones by air or bus is prohibited. Fruit/ drug-sniffing dogs patrol the airport, and you will be fined and your fruit confiscated if found.

Students will provide Beth with their flight numbers and arrival dates/ times prior to the start of the project. Students arriving on one of these 4 dates will be met by the project directors in Arequipa for travel to the Majes: May 17, May 31, June 21, July 5. We may set additional days for meet-ups after we receive student travel info. Students arriving at any other time will be provided with directions from the Arequipa Terrapuerto to our hostal in Corire in the Majes Valley.


US students should bring $30 per day for each day they will spend on the project (including weekends), to cover 3 meals per day, housing, and transportation. Be prepared to pay this in USD or Peruvian Nuevo Soles (PNS), as we cannot take checks in the field. ATMs are available in Arequipa and in the Majes. Students will pay for their own meals on the weekend, but those who remain at the field house on the weekend can help themselves to fruit, tea, eggs, snacks, etc. The site is less than 1.5 miles from the hostal, and we will travel together by combi. The area is safe, but cars drive fast and there are occasionally dangerous dogs patrolling their yards, so we will not allow students to walk to the site.


We will be sleeping in a local hostal, in 2-3 bunk beds per room, with shared showers. Our lab space will be set up in two of the hostal rooms, and you will lock the door and return the key to the project directors when you are the last person out at the end of the day. We will eat a quick breakfast of coffee, eggs, bread, oatmeal, fruit, etc. at the hostal, and pack lunches for the day. We will eat dinner in a Corire restaurant at night.


Please inform us if you have dietary restrictions. We will do our best to accommodate vegetarian, vegan, lactose intolerant, celiac, etc. diets. That said, meat and seafood, rice, and potatoes are key components of the Peruvian diet, and will be featured prominently.  The project director is allergic to wheat and soy, and so we will guarantee wheat and soy free options during the work week. Most foods and dietary supplements are available in the major grocery stores in Arequipa, and students will be free to travel on the weekend to restock their supply of special foods. Meat, vegetables, fruits, bread, and fresh dairy products are easy to obtain in the Majes. We will attend special community events, such as wine tastings and shrimp festivals, as they occur.


The project will maintain a first-aid kit, and Beth Koontz is certified in CPR, AED, and First Aid. Minor injuries can be treated by the local pharmacies. There is a hospital nearby in Aplao, capable of treating minor injuries, fractures, etc. For more serious injuries, we must travel 2.5 hours to the major medical centers in Arequipa.

The CDC recommends malaria and yellow fever vaccines for travelers to Peru, but this is generally only needed for those who visit the jungle. Please visit the CDC’s website to determine if you will need vaccinations.

You should bring any medications that you require for physical and mental wellness. Birth control is available in Peru, but not necessarily the brand that you might be accustomed to. Some medications that require a prescription in the US are available over the counter in Peru, but you will be unable to purchase commonly abused drugs, such as anxiety, pain, antidepressant, or ADHD medications without a Peruvian doctor’s prescription. If you require these drugs bring your own supply and ensure that you travel through customs with the appropriately-labelled prescription bottle and corresponding dosage.

Tampons are easy to obtain in Lima and Arequipa, but difficult to obtain in rural areas like the Majes. Bring your own supply or be prepared to stock up in the city.

Glasses are affordable compared to the US, so many students bring their prescription and purchase frames and lenses in Peru. Please bring an adequate supply of contacts to last you for the duration of the project, as they will be more difficult to obtain.

It is common for travelers to South America to contract bacterial or viral stomach problems. To treat bacterial infections, we recommend that you ask your doctor to prescribe you a round of Cipro, and for you to bring your own supply of probiotics or consume fermented foods (e.g. yogurt) regularly. If you do contract a stomach illness, we will facilitate medical treatment, and make sure that you rest, become hydrated, and consume a bland diet. Electrolyte drinks can be purchased in the Majes, but you may wish to bring your own, as well as a basic supply of ibuprofen, fever-reducers, etc. Always be careful when consuming street food and try to eat foods that have been cooked or can be peeled. It is safest to brush your teeth with bottled water, and be careful never to drink tap water that hasn’t been boiled first. Ice, in nice restaurants in Arequipa, is usually made with bottled or boiled water.

The air is sandy and dry in the Majes, and may exacerbate breathing problems such as asthma and allergies. Make sure you bring adequate supplies of inhalers, and even a travel humidifier if dry air is problematic for you.


In the field, we will work from 7 AM until 3 PM, with a 30 minute break to eat packed lunches. Daytime can get quite hot (up to 70 degrees even in the winter), afternoon winds start around 2, and it gets dark around 4:45-5:00, so these working hours make the most of our time in the field. During excavations we will work at least 2-3 additional hours in the lab at night, registering the day’s artifacts before and after dinner. After excavations are complete, we will work roughly the same hours in the lab.

The project directors will begin mapping the site on April 20, and will remain in the Majes lab to complete analysis in the field lab until Sept. 20. Students are welcome to assist during any portion of this time; however the formal dates for each phase are:

Excavations: June 2 – July 25

Break: July 26-July 29 (Peru celebrates Fiestas Patrias, their independence day, on July 28)

Lab Analysis: July 30 – September 19


We will visit other archaeological sites in the region, as well as local and regional museums. In the Majes, we will enjoy community festivals, pisco, and wine tastings. Depending on the time of year, the Majes River is Class 2-3 whitewater, and we can arrange trips with one of the outfitters in the valley. On the weekends, students are free to travel to Arequipa, the Colca Valley, Nasca, northern Chile, Puno, Cusco, or other nearby regions. Bus times for the above cites are from 2.5-8 hours. We encourage students who want to travel to Machu Picchu or the northern coast to arrange time to do so at the beginning or end of their trip, as there won’t be time on the weekends for anything more than a quick trip. You will be required to sign out for weekend travel, and leave your itinerary and your cell phone number before leaving.


We expect students to behave respectfully and maturely on the project and while in Peru. If we hear of students being disrespectful of our host country, using or seeking out illegal drugs, or doing anything else that could endanger the student or our project, either in the field or on a weekend excursion, the student will be asked to leave. Peruvians are fun-loving and generous hosts, and we expect students will enjoy their work and tourism in the region without creating unnecessary dangers.


You will need a current passport. You can read more about specific requirements at the State Department’s Website. You can learn more about the culture of Peru at the Peruvian Embassy’s website


Items you will definitely need include the following. Other necessities (water bottles, sunscreen, etc.) are easily purchased in Peru if you don’t want to pack them.

  • Sleeping bag
  • Head lamp or flashlight
  • Towel
  • Sunglasses
  • Hiking shoes/ boots
  • Warm clothes, long-johns, and lots of layers (temperatures fall to the 30’s at night, 70’s in the day)
  • Bathing suit (for whitewater trips and hot springs)
  • Field pants to protect your legs from bug bites
  • All medications and hygiene supplies you can’t live without
  • Foods you can’t live without
  • Backpack (for hiking to the site and bringing your packed lunch)
  • Trowel- archaeologists bring a Marshalltown trowel with them wherever they go 🙂
  • Digital camera
  • Phone or MP3 player
  • Laptop or Ipad

PAU does not require you to bring any of these items. However, you will be able to contribute more to the project and entertain yourself in down time with these items. Please use common sense at all times, and do not display your electronic devices in public (except on airplanes or nice buses where would-be robbers would have a difficult time getting away with it). Robberies are not uncommon, and electronics are the most commonly stolen items. Always lock your door and lock away devices in your bags if possible, on the project and in other hotels you may stay in.


The following readings will be available in the field as a reference, or on PAU’s FTP site for download prior to the start of the project:

Andrushko VA. 2011. How the Wari fashioned trophy heads for display. In: Bonogofsky M, editor. The bioarchaeology of the human head : decapitation, decoration, and deformation. Gainesville: University Press of Florida. p 262-285.

Buzon MR, Conlee CA, Simonetti A, and Bowen GJ. 2012. The consequences of Wari contact in the Nasca region during the Middle Horizon: archaeological, skeletal, and isotopic evidence. Journal of Archaeological Science 39(8):2627-2636.

Conlee CA. 2010. Nasca and Wari: local opportunism and colonial ties during the Middle Horizon. In: Jennings J, editor. Beyond Wari walls : regional perspectives on Middle Horizon Peru. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press. p 97-112.

Cook A, and Glowacki M. 2003. Pots, politics, and power: Wari ceramic assemblages and imperial administration. In: Bray TL, editor. The archaeology and politics of food and feasting in early states and empires. New York: Kluwer Academic/Plenum. p viii, 292 p.

de La Vera P. 1989. Cronologia y corologia de la Cuenca del Rio Camaná-Majes-Colca-Arequipa. Arequipa, Peru: Universidad Católica “Santa María” de Arequipa.

Ferguson RB, and Whitehead NL. 1992. The violent edge of empire. In: Ferguson RB, and Whitehead NL, editors. War in the tribal zone: expanding states and indigenous warfare. Santa Fe: School of American Research Press.

Garcia Márquez M, and Bustamante Montoro R. 1990. Arqueología del valle de majes. Gaceta Arqueológico Andina V(18/19):25-40.

Glowacki M, and Malpass M. 2003. Water, huacas, and ancestor worship: traces of a sacred Wari landscape. Latin American Antiquity:431-448.

Haeberli J. 2009. Tradiciones del Horizonte Temprano y el Período Intermedio Temprano en los valles de Sihuas, Vitor, y Majes, Departamento de Arequipa, Perú. . In: Ziólkowski MS, Jennings J, Franco LAB, and Drusini A, editors. Arqueología del área centro sur Andina: Actas del simposio internacional 30 de junio-2 de julio de 2005. Arequipa, Perú: Centro de Estudios Precolombinos, Unviersity of Waraw, Warsaw. p 205-227.

Herrera C, and Amparo N. 1998. Identificación de las técnicas textiles del material textil del sitio arqueológico de La Real valle de Majes: Universidad Católica Santa María de Arequipa.

Huamán López O. 2013. Presencia, ausencia, y recurrencia: La cerámica. In: Jennings J, and Yépez Alvarez W, editors. ¿Wari en Arequipa? Análisis de los contextos funerarios de La Real. Arequipa: Museo Arqueológico José María Morante Universidad Nacional de San Augustín de Arequipa. p 54-85.

Isbell WH. 2004. Mortuary preferences: a Wari culture case study from Middle Horizon Peru. Latin American Antiquity:3-32.

Isbell WH. 2010. Agency, identity, and control: Understanding Wari space and power. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press. 233-234 p.

Jennings J. 2013. La Real y el Horizonte Medio en el Perú. In: Álvarez WJY, and Jennings J, editors. ¿Wari en Arequipa? Análisis de los contextos funerarios de La Real. Arequipa, Perú: Museo Arqueológico José María Morante, Universidad Nacional de San Augustín de Arequipa p32-53.

Jennings J, and Craig N. 2001. Politywide analysis and imperial political economy: The relationship between valley political complexity and adminsitrative centers in the Wari Empire of the Central Andes. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 20:479-502.

Kellner CM, and Schoeninger MJ. 2008. Wari’s imperial influence on local Nasca diet: The stable isotope evidence. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 27(2):226-243.

Knudson KJ, and Tung TA. 2011. Investigating regional mobility in the southern hinterland of the Wari Empire: biogeochemistry at the site of Beringa, Peru. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 145:299-310.

Knudson KJ, Webb E, White C, and Longstaffe FJ. 2013. Baseline data for Andean paleomobility research: a radiogenic strontium isotope study of modern Peruvian agricultural soils. Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences:1-15.

Nash DJ, and Williams PR. 2004. Architecture and power on the Wari–Tiwanaku frontier. Archeological Papers of the American Anthropological Association 14(1):151-174.

Nash DJ, and Williams RP. 2009. Wari political organization: the southern periphery. In: Marcus J, Williams PR, and Moseley ME, editors. Andean civilization : a tribute to Michael E Moseley. Los Angeles: Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, University of California. p 257-276.

Owen B. 2010. Wari in the Majes-Camaná Valley: a different kind of horizon. In: Jennings J, editor. Beyond Wari walls : regional perspectives on Middle Horizon Peru. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press. p 57-77.

Sayre M, Goldstein D, Whitehead W, and Williams P. 2012. A marked preference. Ñawpa Pacha 32(2):231-258.

Schreiber K. 2001. The Wari empire of Middle Horizon Peru: the epistemological challenge of documenting an empire without documentary evidence. In: Alcock SE, D’Altroy TN, Morrison KD, and Sinopoli CM, editors. Empires: perespectives from Archaeology and History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Schreiber KJ. 1992. Wari Imperialism in Middle Horizon Peru. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan.

Szpak P, White CD, Longstaffe FJ, Millaire J-F, and Sánchez VFV. 2013. Carbon and nitrogen isotopic survey of northern Peruvian plants: baselines for paleodietary and paleoecological studies. PloS one 8(1):e53763.

Tung T. 2013a. The Wari Empire: what we have learned from bioarchaeological analysis of Wari skeletons. Society for American Archaeology 78th Annual Meeting. Honolulu, HI.

Tung TA. 2007a. Trauma and violence in the Wari empire of the Peruvian Andes: warfare, raids, and ritual fights. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 133(941-956).

Tung TA. 2007b. The village of Beringa at the periphery of the Wari Empire: a site overview and new radiocarbon dates. Andean Past 8:253-286.

Tung TA. 2008. Dismembering bodies for display: A bioarchaeological study of trophy heads from the Wari site of Conchopata, Peru. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 136(3):294-308.

Tung TA. 2012. Violence, ritual, and the Wari empire : a social bioarchaeology of imperialism in the ancient Andes. Gainesville: University Press of Florida.

Tung TA. 2013b. Bio-antropolgía y condiciones de vida. In: Álvarez WJY, and Jennings J, editors. ¿Wari en Arequipa?: Análisis de ls contextos funerarios de La Real. Arequipa, Peru: Museo Arqueológico José María Morante, Universidad Nacional de San Agustín de Arequipa. p 233-259.

Tung TA. 2013c. Gender-based violence in the Wari and post-Wari era of the Andes. In: Knüsel C, and Smith M, editors. The Routledge Handbook of the Bioarchaeology of Human Conflict: Routledge. p 333-354.

Tung TA, and Castillo Md. 2005. Una visión de la salud comunitaria en el valle de Majes durante la época Wari. In: Olaya CC, and Bernales MAR, editors. Corriente Arqueológica: Muerte y evidencias funerarias en los Andes Centrales: Avances y perspectivas. Lima: Universidad Nacional Federico Villareal. p 149-172.

White TD, Black MT, and Folkens PA. 2012. Human osteology. San Diego, Calif.: Academic Press. xxvi, 662 p. p.

White TD, and Folkens PA. 2005. The human bone manual. Amsterdam ; Boston: Elsevier Academic. xx, 464 p. p.

Williams PR. 2001. Cerro Baúl: A Wari center on the Tiwanaku frontier. Latin American Antiquity:67-83.

Williams PR. 2006. Sighting the apu: a GIS analysis of Wari imperialism and the worship of mountain peaks. World Archaeology 38(3):455-468.

Williams PR. 2009. Wari and Tiwanaku borderlands. In: Young-Sánchez M, editor. 2005 Mayer Center Symposium. Denver Art Museum: Frederick and Jan Mayer Center for Pre-Columbian and Spanish Colonial Art at the Denver Art Museum. p 211-224.

Yépez Álvarez WJ. 2013. Recuperación del dato empírico: Descripción del sitio y excavación. In: Álvarez WJY, and Jennings J, editors. ¿Wari en Arequipa? Análisis de los contextos funerarios de La Real. Arequipa, Perú: El Museo Arqueológico José María Morante, Universidad Nacional de San Augustín de Arequipa p14-31.



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