Inca Gold at Pacopampa

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©Pacopampa Archaeological Project
The small gold Inca figurine found at Pacopampa.

Archaeologists investigating the Late Formative Period temple complex at Pacopampa (featured in CWA 75) discovered Inca offerings deposited more than 1,000 years after the site was abandoned. The find suggests that ancestoral ceremonial centres maintained their spiritual connection with subsequent cultures long after their original inhabitants were lost to living memory.

Archaeologists from the Pacopampa Archaeological Project, led by Professors Yuji Seki and Daniel Morales Chocano, investigating the Square Sunken Court on the south-east corner of the Third (upper) Platform of the complex, discovered a gold figurine, two silver tupus (long pins used to secure a shawl), and a small silver needle, along with fragments of fabric.

The cache had been placed at the bottom of an inverted-cone shaped pit, 4m deep, which cut through the archaeological layers to sterile soil beneath. The base was lined with rectangular stones carved from volcanic rock, placed in such a way as to create a protective ‘chest’ around the cache. The gold statuette, nearly 4.5cm tall and weighing just under 30g, depicts a female figure standing with her arms towards her chest, and her hair braided down her back. It was placed upside down, with the head oriented to the south.

Pacopampa was abandoned at the end of the Formative Period, in about 300 BC. However, we know that later, during the Early Cajamarca Period of AD 100-500, the Sunken Court was covered with alternating layers of soil and stones. Then, during the Late Horizon Period (AD 1476-1532), the Incas dug through the sealed surface of the Pacopampa Sunken Court to bury their offerings. The team also discovered evidence of occupation during the Final Cajamarca Period (AD 1200-1532), at the La Capilla site just 300m away, an area surrounded by two deep ditches – though it is unclear whether these defences were designed to keep out the Incas or the Spanish Conquistadors. It appears, therefore, that the Pacopampa ceremonial centre retained its significance for subsequent societies in the region, including the Incas, opening new debate about the role of such sites that were abandoned at the end of the Formative Period, but which then became an integral part of the social dynamics of later cultures.

Prof. Yuji Seki told CWA, ‘It is probable that Pacopampa was transformed over time into a sacred and ancestral space, where ancestors dwelled. The Inca Royal Road runs along the foot of the complex, so they would have been familiar with the ancient remains. Ritual offerings of gold or silver figures during the Inca Period have been found at many archaeological sites but in most cases we do not know their original source or contexts, which is why the Pacopampa find is important.’

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