This week: Pacopampa

Gary Kirchenbauer Chavín-style mortar thought to come from the site of Pacopampa. Dated to c.700 BC. IMAGE: Wikimedia Commons.

Understanding burial practices and funerary customs is a vital part of any attempt to understand an ancient culture – for while the need to separate the living from the dead is common to all human societies, the way in which this has been done over the centuries varies widely according to time and place.

As part of a Viking funeral, for example, a deceased warrior might be buried with his horse, his dogs, or even in some cases an unfortunate human sacrifice, as an offering to the gods on the journey to Valhalla.

Followers of the ancient Iranian religion of Zoroastrianism, by contrast, adopted a different approach, preferring instead to avoid contamination of the soil by exposing their dead to the elements on mysterious structures known as Towers of Silence.

As we learn this week on The Past, such practices can provide vital clues to archaeologists working many centuries later to uncover how these cultures worked, allowing an insight into their priorities and social structures, as well as their beliefs.

In the latest issue of Current World Archaeology magazine, Yuji Seki reveals how the recent discovery of a remarkable tomb at Pacopampa, an ancient ceremonial gathering place in the northern highlands of Peru, is changing our understanding of early Andean civilisations, and raising intriguing questions about when and why elites emerged in the region.

Elsewhere this week, we have also been delving into the archives for more about ancient Andean civilisations: we caught up on earlier discoveries at this week’s featured site of Pacopampa; we learned about human sacrifice and the origins of the Incas; we examined pilgrimages and power on a visit to the city of Pachacamac; and we even looked into the vital (if often dangerous) business of building Andean suspension bridges.

And finally, if all that leaves you hungry for more, don’t forget to have a go at our latest Quiz, which this week is also themed around South America. Good luck, and we hope you enjoy The Past!

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