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Architecture and Chronology at the Site of Sechn Alto, Casma Valley, Peru

Author(s): Thomas Pozorski and Shelia Pozorski


Source: Journal of Field Archaeology, Vol. 30, No. 2 (Summer, 2005), pp. 143-161
Published by: Boston University
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/40024939
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Architecture and
Chronology
at the Site
of Sechin
Alto,
Casma
Valley,
Peru
Thomas Pozorski
Shelia Pozorski
University
of Texas-Pan American
Edinburg,
Texas
The Initial
Period,
between 2150 and 1000 cal
B.C.,
was a eritical time in the
development
of
civilization within the Andean area
of
South America. About 2100 cal
B.C.,
within sev-
eral river
valleys along
the north-central coast
of Peru,
sudden
changes
occurred in subsis-
tence,
settlement
pattern,
and level
of
cultural
complexity.
These
changes
were
especially
notable within the Casma
Valley
where labor was mobilized to build
large flat-topped pyra-
mids and
plaza systems
that
occupied
the centers
of large
cities. The site
of
Sechin
Alto,
with
an estimated
population of 18,000,
is the
largest
Initial Period site in the Casma
Valley
on
the north-central coast
of
Peru. Our research has shown that successive
changes
in the con-
struction and use
of
the main Sechin Alto mound can be used to document the rise and
fall
of
a state-level Initial Period
polity.
We illustrate this
development by describing
the chrono-
logical sequence for
the main mound
of
Sechin
Alto,
the site's
relationship
with other sites
within the Casma
Valley area,
and the reuse and abandonment
of
the site
during
the
Early
Horizon
(1000-200
cal
B.C.).
These
features of
what
may
be the earliest Andean
state
provide
critical
comparative
data
for
scholars
of
societal
development
worldwide.
143
Introduction
The Initial Period
(2150-1000
cal
B.C.)
in ancient Peru
witnessed
rapid
and fundamental
changes
in the
lifestyle
of
the inhabitants of the north and central coasts. Our field-
work at earlier Cotton Preceramic
(3000-2150
cal
B.C.)
sites in the Casma
Valley area,
as well as
published
results
of recent fieldwork in the
Supe-Pativilca-Fortaleza
area
south of Casma
(Haas, Creamer,
and Ruiz
2004, 2005;
Shady 1997; Shady, Haas,
and Creamer
2001),
have doc-
umented
preceramic precedents
for the monumental archi-
tecture that arose further inland within the Casma
Valley.
Essential architectural elements such as bilateral
symmetry
and
balance,
mound
building,
and
specific
mound and
plaza
structure
types
at some
prepottery
sites
presage
later
Initial Period
developments.
Nevertheless,
these
preceram-
ic antecedents are dwarfed
by
their
early
ceramic succes-
sors, especially
the Sechin Alto
polity
within the Casma
Valley.
The successive construction and use
phases
of the
largest
mound within the Sechin Alto
polity
reveal
key
elements of
the rise and fall of an Initial Period state. When these de-
velopments
are
put
in a
larger context,
the
polity
is revealed
as a collection of sites with
complementary
roles that form
a cohesive whole. A sizeable labor force was mobilized
from a
large population
to create and maintain sites that
adhered to strict architectural canons.
Among
these
sites,
a
five-tier
hierarchy
can be
distinguished, ranging
from small
coastal
fishing
satellites to Sechin Alto
site,
the
polity cap-
ital. Persistence of architectural elements and site
layout
through
time and
space argue
for
hegemony
across
many
generations. Specific
architectural contexts and associated
artifacts
argue
that a distinctive architectural
form,
the
square-room unit,
functioned
simultaneously
as a structure
type
and an emblem of
authority.
In the absence of metal-
lurgy
and well-
developed
ceramic and textile
technologies,
Sechin Alto
polity
leaders manifested
conspicuous
con-
sumption, ideology,
and artistic achievement
through
monumental construction that featured modular
units,
precision
in
layout,
and
polychrome
friezes. This
powerful
polity, possibly
the earliest Andean
state,
declined about
1400 cal B.C. because of the combined effects of internal
conflict and a severe El Nino event.
At the
beginning
of the Initial
Period,
the full
potential
of
irrigation agriculture
was
realized;
and this
innovation,
along
with the
concepts
of
pottery-making
and true weav-
ing, spread along
much of the Peruvian coast. The
majori-
ty
of the
existing
coastal
populations
relocated several kilo-
144 Architecture and
Chronology
at Sechin
Alto,
Casma
Valley,
Peru/Pozorski
and Pozorski
Figure
1.
Map
of the Casma
Valley
area
showing
the location of
early
sites.
meters inland to
optimal places
to
practice irrigation agri-
culture that
supplied
a reliable and
expandable
food base
(Burger 1992;
Morris and von
Hagen 1993; Moseley
1992;
Richardson
1994).
Within a few
generations, large
settlements served as centers of substantial
polities
with
growing populations
that were
socially, economically,
and
politically complex.
The
largest
settlements within the Cas-
ma
Valley
are the Sechin Alto
Complex,
a
group
of four re-
lated sites that dominated the Sechin
River,
and
Pampa
de
las
Llamas-Moxeke,
the
largest
site on the Casma River
(figs. 1-3).
These sites were further linked with a
group
of
coastal sites that
supplied
vital marine
protein (Pozorski
and Pozorski
1987, 1991).
The Initial Period within the Casma
Valley
area is char-
acterized
by
two
developments
which we
designate
as the
Moxeke and Las Haldas cultures. The Moxeke Culture is
most relevant because it culminated in the Sechin Alto
poli-
ty
and construction of Sechin Alto
site;
it was defined at
Pampa
de las Llamas-Moxeke and it is characterized
by
ce-
ramic forms of neckless
jars
decorated
predominantly by
deep gouges
on the vessel shoulder
(fig. 4)
as well as ce-
ramic
figurines,
stone bowls or
mortars,
and a distinct
modular architectural form known as the
square-room
unit
which had an administrative function
(Pozorski
and Po-
zorski
1986, 1994).
The Moxeke Culture is also known
from the inland Sechin Alto
Complex
sites of Sechin
Alto,
Sechin
Bajo,
Cerro
Sechin,
and Taukachi-Konkan as well as
the coastal sites of Bahia
Seca, Tortugas,
and
Huaynuna
(Pozorski
and Pozorski
1992, 2002).
The decline of the Sechin Alto
polity
near the end of the
Initial Period allowed the
people
of the Las Haldas Culture
to intrude into Sechin Alto
territory
and construct an ad-
ministrative
outpost
at Sechin Alto. This culture was ini-
tially
defined at Las Haldas on the basis of ceramics. Small
punctations,
often in zoned
patterns,
on bottles
predomi-
nate
(fig. 5),
and there is a
greater proportion
of decorat-
ed ceramics within the Las Haldas Culture
compared
to the
Moxeke Culture
(Pozorski
and Pozorski
1987).
Addition-
al architectural traits such as shared-wall
construction,
less
use of rounded
corners,
and rear- oriented access further
distinguish
the Las Haldas Culture from the Moxeke Cul-
ture. Las Haldas cultural material has been found at Bahia
Seca on the coast and at the Sechin Alto
Complex
sites of
Sechin Alto and Taukachi-Konkan.
Sechin Alto site was
heavily occupied during
the subse-
quent Early Horizon,
a time of marked
change
in subsis-
tence, artifacts,
and settlement
pattern
with a
stronger
in-
land orientation. The Initial Period
emphasis
on immense
platform mounds, rigid
site
planning,
and bilateral site
symmetry gave way
to
villages
where room and
courtyard
complexes
have varied orientations.
Early
Horizon
squat-
ters treated the main mound as if it were a hill and con-
structed a
village
on its summit.
Maize, camelids,
and
guinea pigs
were added to the subsistence
inventory,
and
new artifacts
appeared, including panpipes
and slate
points
(fig. 6).
The new ceramics are also distinctive because of
their exterior decoration
including
textile
impressions,
zoned
gray
or white
paint,
and
stamped
circles and dots
(fig. 7).
Later cultural
developments
within the Casma
Valley
had little
impact
on Sechin Alto site. Brief reoccu-
pations
were
represented only by
intrusive burials and oc-
casional
dry-laid
stone rooms.
Sechin Alto Site
The Initial Period site of Sechin
Alto,
located on the
Sechin River branch of the Casma
Valley,
is
part
of a 10.5
sq
km
group
of sites known as the Sechin Alto
Complex
(figs. 1-3).
Of the four sites that make
up
the
complex-
Sechin
Alto,
Sechin
Bajo,
Cerro
Sechin,
and Taukachi-
Konkan- Sechin Alto is
by
far the
largest (Pozorski
and
Pozorski 1987:
82,
2002:
21).
The main mound of Sechin
Journal ofField Archaeology fVol 30,
2005 145
Figure
2. View of the main mound of Sechin Alto from the east.
Alto is300x250m and 35 m in
height
and is the
largest
mound construction for its time
period
in the New World.
Four
large rectangular plazas
demarcated
by
massive stone
walls and smaller stone mounds extend almost 1200 m east
from the main mound. There are also two sunken circular
plazas,
one in the second
rectangular plaza
and one in the
fourth
rectangular plaza.
The
general configuration
of the mound includes a cen-
tral staircase that leads from a lower atrium flanked
by
10
m
high wings
to an
upper atrium,
which is also bordered
by wings
on the north and south and
by
the mound sum-
mit to the west
(fig. 8).
Between the lower and
upper
atria
there is an increase in elevation of about 11.5 m. A second
long
staircase leads to the mound summit at an elevation
some 12.75 m above the
upper
atrium floor. Most con-
struction is of stones
quarried
from
nearby
hillsides and set
in
silty clay
mortar. A solid
rectangular
"core" made of
cone-shaped
adobe bricks held in
place by silty clay
mortar
and
measuring
some 90 m n-s
by
30 m e-w and 9 m in
height occupies
the center of the mound summit. Conical
adobe bricks were also
occasionally
used to construct stair-
cases and the
upper portions
of stone walls.
Previous
Investigations
Surface
survey
of Sechin Alto site was undertaken over
the
past
65
years (Fung
and Williams 1977:
116-120;
Kosok 1965:
214-215;
Tello 1956:
79-82; Thompson
1962:
294)
and Collier excavated two test
pits
there in
1956
(Collier
1962:
411).
Most
investigators agreed
on an
"early"
date for the site based on the form and
layout
of its
surface architecture and the small amount of cultural ma-
terial excavated
by
Collier.
Current
Investigations
Eight
field seasons
(1995-2002)
of excavation
support-
ed the
early dating,
and led us to
assign
the bulk of Sechin
Alto mound construction to the Initial Period
(table i).
The
general
form of the main mound
clearly
indicates an
146 Architecture and
Chronology
at Sechin
Alto,
Casma
Valley,
Peru/Pozorski
and Pozorski
Figure
3. Plan of the Sechin Alto
Complex showing
the location of its four
component sites,
Cerro
Sechin, Taukachi-Konkan,
Sechin
Bajo,
and Sechin Alto as well as
A)
the south
wing
of the first
plaza
east of the main
mound,
and
B)
the domestic area of Sechin Alto.
Initial Period
construction,
but most architectural detail re-
lated to that construction is unclear. The main
difficulty
stems from a
major Early
Horizon
(1000-200
cal
B.C.)
re-
occupation
of the mound summit after a hiatus in
occupa-
tion of about 500
years.
These new
occupants
left volumi-
nous midden
deposits
as well as structures built with ma-
terial taken from the earlier Initial Period constructions.
Our excavations at Sechin Alto focused on the delin-
eation of access
patterns (staircases
and
entrances)
of the
Initial Period
architecture,
stratigraphic
excavation of
por-
tions of the mound to establish
chronological controls,
de-
tailed examination of
specific
areas to obtain functional in-
formation
pertaining
to the Initial Period
occupation,
and
horizontal
clearing
of some
Early
Horizon architecture to
better understand that
reoccupation.
These excavations
were
accomplished
in
eight
10-week field seasons with the
aid of a Peruvian
codirector,
2 to 4
students,
and 7 to 20
Peruvian workmen each season. Excavation units were 2 m
squares,
and earth
moving
was
accomplished using picks,
shovels,
and trowels. Excavated material within 10 cm of
floors and within features was screened
through
1/4
inch
screen, representative samples
were screened
through
#10
and #25
geological
soil
screens,
and
pollen
and radiocar-
bon
samples
were collected from
appropriate
contexts.
Workmen
readily
carried stones
weighing up
to 130
kg;
larger
stones were moved
using ropes and/or
solid
poles
as
rollers or skids.
Moving
the
largest
stone
required
16
workmen.
Chronological Sequence
at Sechin Alto
Six
phases
of construction and
occupation
were docu-
mented. Construction of the mound took
place during
the
Journal of
'Field
Archaeology /Vol. 30,
2005 147
Figure
4. Decorated
pottery
from the Moxeke Phase of Sechin Alto also found at
Pampa
de las Llamas-Moxeke. Scale is cm.
Figure
5. Decorated
pottery
from the Haldas Phase of Sechin Alto. It is also found at Las Haldas. Scale is cm.
148 Architecture and
Chronology
at Sechin
Alto,
Casma
Valley,
Peru/Pozorski
and Pozorski
Figure
6. Polished slate
points
from the
Early
Horizon
reoccupation
of
Sechin
Alto,
also found at San
Diego
and
Pampa
Rosario.
Figure
7.
Pottery
from the
Early
Horizon
reoccupation
of Sechin
Alto,
also found at San
Diego
and
Pampa
Rosario.
Moxeke Phase which
spanned
most of the Initial Period
and can be subdivided into Moxeke Phases A and B be-
cause two
major
construction
episodes
are
clearly
evident
(there
is no discernible
change
in associated
artifacts).
Ra-
diocarbon dates
suggest approximate
time
spans
of 2150-
1500 cal B.C. and 1500-1400 cal B.C.
respectively
for these
subphases.
The remainder of the Initial
Period,
from about
1400 to 1000 cal
B.C.,
has been
designated
the Haldas
Phase to
distinguish
a new cultural
presence.
These Initial
Period construction
phases
are followed
by
the
Early
Hori-
zon
reoccupation
as well as later Middle Horizon and
"Transitional" Period
ephemeral
uses of the mound.
Moxeke Phase
The Moxeke Phase as a whole can be dated to between
2150 and 1400 cal B.C. based on radiocarbon dates from
Pampa
de las
Llamas-Moxeke, Taukachi-Konkan,
Bahia Se-
ca,
and Cerro Sechin. Sechin Alto site dates fall near the
end of this
phase,
between 1600 and 1400 cal B.C.
(table
i), reflecting
the fact that our excavations were confined to
the
upper
half of the mound. Moxeke Phase ceramics were
found in association with Moxeke Phase A
architecture,
in
the
overlying
construction and fill
pertaining
to Moxeke
Phase
B,
and within a domestic area in the se corner of the
Sechin Alto
Complex
(fig. 3B).
Architecture
dating
to
Moxeke Phase A was
exposed
in four areas of the main
mound: the conical
core,
the
depression
east of the adobe
core,
the north
wing
of the
upper
atrium,
and the lowest
segment
of the central staircase. Moxeke Phase B architec-
ture was
exposed
on the mound
summit,
both
wings
of the
upper
atrium,
and on an intermediate-sized mound bor-
dering
the first
plaza.
MOXEKE PHASE A
Moxeke Phase
A,
the earliest
period
of
occupation yet
identified at Sechin
Alto,
saw the
building
of a
significant
portion
of the main
mound, possibly
as much as two-thirds
of its
2,000,000
cu m final volume. The adobe core was
likely
the tallest
part
of the mound summit at this time
(fig. 8a-c).
It was
originally
a solid construction
standing
at least 9 m above the
adjacent
mound surface. Excavation
of an intact
portion
of the west side
(fig. 8c)
revealed that
Journal of
Field
Archaeolqgy/Vol. 30,
2005 149
Figure
8. Plan of the main mound of the Sechin Alto site
showing: A)
North end of the adobe
core; B)
East
exterior face of the adobe
core; C)
West exterior face of the adobe
core; D) Deep depression
east of the
adobe
core; E)
North
wing
of the
upper atrium; F)
Staircase
system
between the lower atrium and the
upper
atrium; G)
Corridor
leading
to the summit of the adobe
core; H)
Summit
room; I)
Staircase
system
between
the
upper
atrium and the summit
room; J)
South
wing
of the
upper atrium; K) Early
Horizon architecture
on the mound summit.
the 9 m
height
included both a bench which is 3.5 m tall
and 4.7 m wide and the 5.5 m tall wall
segment
above the
bench. Traces of
square
columns were found at the adobe
core's nw and ne corners.
Polychrome
friezes decorate
remnants of three columns in the nw corner. Each frieze is
distinct,
but not
enough
remains to determine
precise
mo-
tifs. Two
samples
of wood from
postholes
within the
columns
yielded
dates of 1540 60 and 1410 55 cal
B.C.
(table i).
We believe these
square
column remnants
were
part
of two
long
colonnades, perhaps containing
as
many
as 45 columns
each,
which lined the east and west
sides of the adobe core surface
(fig. 8).
East of the adobe core a 15 m
deep depression
facilitat-
ed excavation of a
pair
of
partially preserved
rooms associ-
ated with
Pampa
de las Llamas -Moxeke
type pottery
(figs.
8b, 8d, 9).
One of these is a
square-room unit,
a modular
building
form
composed
of a
square
room with round ex-
terior corners that denotes administrative architecture at
Pampa
de las Llamas-Moxeke and Taukachi-Konkan
(Po-
zorski and Pozorski 1994:
53).
The
square-room
unit at
Sechin Alto rests on a
platform
made of conical adobe
bricks that stands at least 5 m above a floor that
appears
to
be
part
of a small
courtyard
or
open
area. Charcoal from
this floor
yielded
a date of 1510 60 cal B.C.
(table i).
Moxeke Phase A architecture was also discovered with-
in the
wing
north of the
upper
atrium
(fig. 8e).
A 3 m
150 Architecture and
Chronology
at Sechin
Alto,
Casma
Valley,
Peru/Pozorski
and Pozorski
Table 1. Radiocarbon dates from the site of Sechin Alto.
Sample
no. Radiocarbon Uncalibrated Calibrated
*
Material
Archaeological
context
years b.p
date b.c. date B.C. dated
Beta-172352 3320 60 1370 60 1610 80 totorn reed
Roofing
material found on floor of a narrow corridor east of the adobe
core,
matting
Moxeke Phase B
Beta-110593 3300 50 1350 50 1540 60 wood Within a
posthole
in a column in the ne corner of the adobe
core,
Moxeke
Phase A
Beta-110592 3240 60 1290 60 1510 60 charcoal Within 10 cm of floor of
deep
room east of adobe
core,
Moxeke Phase A
Beta-138056 3240 50 1290 50 1510 55 wood Within a
pilaster
of an entrance in the
wing
structure north of the
upper-
atrium,
Haldas Phase
Beta-124948 3240 60 1290 60 1510 60 charcoal Within
Sq. 2,
level
15,
domestic area in se corner of Sechin Alto
Complex,
Moxeke Phase B
Beta-150768 3220 60 1270 60 1500 55 charcoal Within fill 85-145 cm below surface of Initial Period
gray plaster
floor in
and wood
wing
structure north of the
upper atrium,
Moxeke Phase B
Beta-150766 3170 60 1220 60 1430 50 wood Within a
pilaster
of an entrance in the
wing
structure north of the
upper
atrium,
Haldas Phase
Beta-138058 3160 60 1210 60 1425 50 charcoal Within a hearth near floor of Haldas Phase rooms in
wing
structure north of
the
upper
atrium
Beta-124947 3150 60 1200 60 1420 35 charcoal Fill material within 10 cm of floor of
square-room
unit on adobe
platform
within
deep room,
Moxeke Phase B
Beta-124945 3140 60 1190 60 1410 55 wood Within a
posthole
in column in the nw corner of adobe
core,
Moxeke Phase A
Beta- 150767 3110 70 1160 70 1400 70 wood Within 7
postholes
in Initial Period
gray
floor in the
wing
structure north of
the
upper atrium,
Moxeke Phase B
Beta- 164488 3090 70 1140 70 1390 70 charcoal Fill material 0-40 cm below room floor within south
wing
of first main
plaza
east of main mound of Sechin
Alto,
Moxeke Phase B
Beta-172353 3090 60 1140 60 1390 65 charcoal Fill material 50-60 cm below corridor
floor,
in domestic area in se corner of
Sechin Alto
Complex,
Haldas Phase
Beta-110594 3080 60 1130 60 1380 60 charcoal Within
Square 1,
level
18/19,
domestic area in se corner of Sechin Alto
Complex,
Moxeke Phase B
Beta-138057 3050 70 1100 70 1305 95 wood Post within corridor in
wing
structure north of the
upper atrium,
Haldas
Phase
Beta-124946 3040 60 1090 60 1295 95 charcoal Fill material 1.5 m above the floor of the
square-room
unit on adobe
platform
within
deep room,
Moxeke Phase B
Beta-172354 3010 70 1060 70 1270 125 charcoal Fill material 0-30 cm below floor #4 of room in south
wing
of first main
plaza
east of main
mound,
Sechin
Alto,
Moxeke Phase B
Beta-172351 3000 60 1050 60 1260 115
junco plantWithin
a column hole of a room within the
wing
south of the
upper
fiber
rope atrium,
Moxeke Phase B
Beta- 138059 2930 60 980 60 1120 110 charcoal Within an intrusive hearth located above Haldas Phase architecture in
wing
structure north of the
upper
atrium
Beta-150765 2860 60 910 60 1010 90 wood East
post
of main south entrance in the
wing
structure north of the
upper
atrium,
late Haldas Phase
Beta- 16448 7 2760 60 810 60 900 70 charcoal Within an intrusive hearth on low
platform
in south
wing
of first main
plaza
east of main
mound,
Sechin
Alto,
late Haldas Phase
Beta-110591 2210 60 260 60 290 70 charcoal Within an intrusive hearth in
Early
Horizon midden
layer overlying
Moxeke
Phase B architecture east of the east end of the
upper
atrium
Beta-150769 2110 60 160 60 160 75 charcoal Within intrusive hearth
overlying
Haldas Phase architecture in
wing
structure
north of
upper
atrium
*
Periods in this
paper
are based on calibrated radiocarbon dates
(Stuiver
et al.
1998).
wide staircase
system
made
largely
of conical adobe bricks
partially
underlies a
large
room block associated with Las
Haldas
type pottery
(fig. io).
The south
portion
of the
staircase leads north from the
upper
atrium
up
to a land-
ing.
At the north end of the
landing
the staircase descends
to a
well-preserved plaster
floor that forms
part
of a
large
room or
courtyard.
The northern end of this staircase and
associated room are covered
by
3.75 m of
rocky
construc-
tion fill
dating
to Moxeke Phase
B, upon
which rests the
later Haldas Phase construction.
Journal of
Field
Archaeology '/Vol. 30,
2005 151
Figure
9. View from the sw of the buried Moxeke Phase A adobe
platform supporting
remains of a
square-room
unit and a
rectangular
room.
Two staircase
systems currently
ascend the east face of
the main mound
along
its central axis.
Only
the lower stair-
case
system, rising
from the lower to the
upper
atrium
(fig. 8f),
was in use
during
Moxeke Phase A. Two con-
struction
phases
are evident in this staircase and
they likely
pertain
to Moxeke Phases A and B. A short
segment
of the
earlier staircase was
exposed
at the bottom of the lower
staircase
system
where four of its
steps
extend east
beyond
the west wall of the lower atrium.
Higher up,
this staircase
was
inset,
and its size and
configuration
were
very proba-
bly
like the Moxeke Phase B staircase that
currently
over-
lies it.
MOXEKE PHASE B
The main mound and its associated four
rectangular
plazas
and two sunken circular
plazas
attained their
present
configuration during
Moxeke Phase B. Evidence of Mox-
eke Phase B construction was
exposed
in the adobe core
area,
the summit
room,
the central
staircase,
and the north
and south
wings
of the
upper
atrium. Moxeke Phase B ar-
chitecture was also encountered
during
excavation of a
small mound
bordering
the first
plaza
(fig. 3A),
and the
midden and residential architecture to the se also
probably
date to this
phase
(fig. 3B).
The adobe core continued to be used
during
Moxeke
Phase B when all four sides were surrounded and covered
by
stone and mud fill which raised the
height
of much of
the mound some 9
m, up
to the
height
of the adobe core
surface. The few
diagnostic
ceramics found in this fill were
all Moxeke
Phase,
and two dates for the construction fill of
1420 35 and 1295 95 cal B.C. were crucial in
dating
the
upper
construction fill of the mound to Moxeke Phase
B
(table 1).
These dates establish a lower
bracketing
date
for the Initial Period architecture built on the fill.
152 Architecture and
Chronology
at Sechin
Alto,
Casma
Valley,
Peru/Pozorski
and Pozorski
Figure
10. Plan of the Haldas Phase Initial Period architecture on the
wing
structure of the
upper
atrium.
Recent excavations revealed a
relatively
intact stone-
lined corridor
(fig. 8g)
that connects the
top
of the adobe
core with the summit room
(fig. 8h).
The
corridor,
mea-
suring
1.25 m wide with side walls
standing
2.5
m,
re-
stricted access to the
top
of the adobe core
during
this
phase. Roofing
material recovered from the floor of the
corridor
yielded
a date of 1610 80 cal B.C.
(table i).
We
believe the adobe core was
originally
a solid construction
that
supported
a
long rectangular
surface bordered
by
friezed colonnades. This
layout
and
iconography, coupled
with the restricted access to the
area, suggests strongly
that
this zone served as a ritual
precinct
at the center of the main
mound
during
both Moxeke
phases.
The summit room was constructed
during
Moxeke
Phase B
upon
fill that also dates to this
phase.
It is 50 m
n-s
by
25 m e-w
(fig. 8h),
and its walls are made of un-
usually large (up
to 1.6 x
by
0.9
m) quarried
stones set in
silty clay
mortar. The walls are almost 5 m thick and stood
at least 10 m
high.
The summit room has a 5 m wide en-
trance in its east wall that
aligns
with the central staircase
system
of the mound. Numerous
painted
frieze
fragments
(red, yellow, black, blue,
gray, green,
and
white)
were
found in the wall fall east of the summit
room, revealing
that the east face of the summit room was once decorated
with
polychrome
friezes.
The central staircase
system
consists of two
separate
staircases that ascend the east face of the main mound. One
rises from the lower atrium to the
upper
atrium
(fig. 8f)
and the second rises from the
upper
atrium to the entrance
of the summit room. Initial construction of the lower stair-
case was
completed during
Moxeke Phase
A,
and
during
Moxeke Phase B the lower atrium floor was raised 2.2
m,
covering part
of the first staircase and
providing
the start-
ing
level for the
overlying
staircase. Excavations of the low-
er staircase
(figs. 8f, iia)
revealed 39
steps, including
one
landing
area and one
bench, totaling
11.5 m in elevation.
The first 26
steps
of the staircase are 10.5 m wide and in-
set. The next three
steps
are 5 m wide and lead from a land-
ing up
to a bench. The final 10
steps
are 6.75 m wide and
inset into the east
edge
of the
upper
atrium.
The
upper
staircase has
approximately
46
steps
and
rises almost 13 m
(fig. 8i, iib).
This staircase consists of
four
segments
that
vary
in width. All but the lowest was ex-
posed by excavation,
however this first staircase
segment
was
probably
about 5 m
wide, inset,
and contained
ap-
proximately
16
steps.
The second inset staircase
segment
that leads
up
to a wide
landing
is 5 m wide and contains
four
steps
(fig. iib).
The third inset
segment
of this stair-
case narrows as it ascends to the
upper landing.
The first 13
steps
measure 17 m
wide,
then the staircase narrows to 9
m in width for the last five
steps
(fig. iib).
The fourth and
final
segment
consists of a 5 m wide
free-standing
staircase
of
eight steps leading
from the
upper landing
to a bench
along
the east wall of the summit room. The sides of this
staircase
align
with the side walls of the east entrance to the
summit room
(fig. iib).
Moxeke Phase ceramics were re-
covered
during
excavation of this
upper
staircase and the
stratigraphic position
of the staircase demonstrates its
Moxeke Phase B date.
Architecture
exposed
in the south
wing
of the
upper
atrium was
assigned
to Moxeke Phase B because of its ar-
chitectural connection to the
upper
staircase
system
(fig.
8j).
Looting
in this area resulted in
heavy damage, leaving
only
scant remains of two rooms. The north room is
reached from the
upper
atrium
by way
of a 1.65 m wide
doorway.
Within this room a
square
bench contains four
column
holes,
each
measuring
about 35 cm in diameter
and
containing
the remains of column cores of cane
wrapped
in a
plant-fiber rope
of
junco (Scirpus sp.)
These
columns
may
have
supported
a
roof,
creating
a veranda
that served as a
reception
area for visitors to the south
wing.
Junco
fiber
rope
remains from one column hole were
dated to 1260 115 cal B.C.
(table i).
Journal of
Held
Archaeology [Vol. 30,
2005 153
Figure
11. Plan of the main staircase
system. A)
Staircase from the lower atrium to the
upper atrium; B)
Staircase from the
upper
atrium to the summit of the main mound.
154 Architecture and
Chronology
at Sechin
Alto,
Casma
Valley,
Peru/Pozorski
and Pozorski
The second room is entered from the east side of the ve-
randa. Here all that remains of a much
larger
room is a
par-
tially preserved
bench
supporting
a
low, square platform
abutting
the main mound. South of this
platform
is a col-
umn hole and a remnant of
protruding plaster
that
may
be
the remains of a frieze.
On the north
wing,
a
rough
floor of
gray silty plaster up
to 12 cm thick covers the surface of the 3.75 m
deep
Mox-
eke Phase B fill of the Moxeke Phase A room. Charcoal and
wood in this fill dated to 1500 55 cal B.C.
(table i).
The
fill
yielded
a
stylized
bird-head
pendant
of unidentified
green stone,
but no
diagnostic pottery.
Imbedded in the
gray
silt floor is an
alignment
of seven small
postholes,
10-12 cm in
diameter,
that were covered
by
later Haldas
Phase architecture. Wood
fragments
from these
postholes
were dated to 1400 70 cal B.C.
(table i).
Moxeke Phase
B ended before
any
structures were built on the north
wing.
Portions of two rooms
forming
the south border of the
first
plaza
have interior round corners like most
square-
room units of the Moxeke Phase
(fig. 3A).
There is also
ample gray
silt floor and wall
plaster
that matches the Mox-
eke Phase B
gray
silt floor of the
upper
atrium north
wing,
and Moxeke Phase sherds were recovered in the excava-
tions. Dates of 1390 70 and 1270 125 cal B.C.
(table
i)
from charcoal recovered from fill below the floor of one
of the rooms also
suggest
that these structures date to
Moxeke Phase B.
Excavations
during
1995 and 2002 within a residential
area southeast of the main mound uncovered
ample
evi-
dence of midden and some structures
dating
to the Mox-
eke Phase
(fig. 3B).
Only
Moxeke Phase
pottery
was re-
covered from these
excavations, along
with numerous
fig-
urine
fragments,
stone bowl or mortar
fragments,
twined
and woven
textiles,
and abundant subsistence remains.
Two radiocarbon dates of 1510 60 cal B.C. and 1380
60 cal B.C.
(table i)
from charcoal recovered
during
mid-
den excavations
place
this
occupation
within Moxeke
Phase B.
Haldas Phase
Both the Moxeke and Las Haldas cultural
developments
have
long
histories within the Casma
Valley
area. The ear-
liest dates for the Moxeke
occupation
come from the site
of
Pampa
de las
Llamas-Moxeke,
which was inhabited from
2080 to 1340 cal B.C. The Las Haldas
occupation
of the
Casma
Valley
area is dated to between 1925 and 1410 cal
B.C. at the coastal site of Las Haldas
(Pozorski
and Pozors-
ki 1992: table
2). Thus,
the Moxeke and Las Haldas Cul-
tures
appeared
at about the same time and coexisted for
several hundred
years.
There is no evidence of
significant
interaction between the two
cultures, however,
until about
1400 cal B.C. when Las Haldas ceramics and cultural ma-
terial
appeared
well north of Las Haldas.
The Las Haldas Culture
expanded
northward
along
the
coast and inland into the Casma
Valley during
the Haldas
phase.
Haldas Phase
building activity
on the main Sechin
Alto mound occurs
mainly
on the north
wing
above the
Moxeke Phase B
gray
silt floor where a
large
room and
smaller room block were constructed
(fig. 8e).
The
large
room is formed
by
a wall of
large
stones that borders the
north
wing
on the
north, east,
and south. Excavations
within this room revealed a 3.4 m wide south
doorway
in-
to a corridor
bordering
a block of
contiguous
stone -walled
rooms around a small
courtyard
(fig. 8e, io).
Entry
into
the
courtyard complex
is
by way
of two narrow
doorways
in the rear of the structure and
through
a small room
(fig.
io).
Within the
courtyard
a
central, rectangular,
stone-lined
depression (1.5
x 1.6
m)
contains an offset circular hearth
some 50 cm in diameter. Given its
large
size and
prominent
position
within the
complex,
this hearth could reflect a lo-
calized ritual somewhat like the ventilated hearth structures
of the Moxeke Phase
(Pozorski
and Pozorski
1996).
The
courtyard
and room
complex superficially
resem-
bles the
layout
of intermediate-sized mounds at
Pampa
de
las Llamas-Moxeke
(Pozorski
and Pozorski 1992:
fig.
8,
1994:
fig. 3); however,
close
inspection
reveals
significant
differences. There are no modular
square-room
units;
in-
stead,
the Haldas Phase rooms are rectilinear with shared
walls and the main entrance is in the rear. Some continu-
ities with earlier architecture can be seen in the use of
round
corners,
raised
thresholds,
and
paired pilasters
with-
in
doorways.
Las Haldas
type
ceramics were recovered
from these
rooms,
the
surrounding
corridor,
and the south
entrance. A solid ceramic
cylinder
seal from one room is
similar in form to
examples
associated with intermediate-
sized mounds at
Pampa
de las Llamas-Moxeke
(Pozorski
and Pozorski 1991:
fig. 8).
The seal and the
general
con-
figuration
of the room
complex suggest
its
primary
func-
tion was administrative. Haldas Phase
people may
have at-
tempted
to simulate the
square-room
unit,
which
symbol-
ized administrative function
during
the Moxeke
Phase,
as
a means of
signaling
their administrative
presence.
Four radiocarbon dates come from the Haldas Phase
construction on the north
wing
(table i).
Two dates of
1510 55 and 1430 50 cal B.C. are from wooden
posts
within entrance
pilasters
of the
courtyard/room complex.
A third date of 1305 95 cal B.C. is from a wooden
post
embedded in the floor of the corridor south of the court-
yard/room complex.
With
two-sigma
standard
deviation,
these three dates
suggest
a date of ca. 1400 cal B.C. as the
dividing
line between Moxeke Phase B construction and
Journal of
Field
Archaeolqgy/Vol. 30,
2005 155
later Haldas Phase construction. A fourth date of 1010
90 cal B.C. from a
post
in the south entrance of the stone
surrounding
wall
probably
dates a late Haldas Phase mod-
ification of the north
wing.
An additional date of 1 120
110 cal B.C.
(table i)
is from an intrusive hearth well
above the floor level of the
courtyard/room complex
and
probably represents
a
squatter presence
on the mound
shortly
after the Haldas Phase ended.
Early
Horizon
The
Early
Horizon
occupation
is
ubiquitous
at Sechin
Alto site and
largely
obscured the
primary
construction
phases
on the main mound. This led one
investigator
to
misdate the main construction and
occupation
of the site
(e.g.
Wilson 1995:
193,
1999:
369)
and
impeded
reliable
architectural
mapping
of the site's Initial Period
compo-
nents. The
map by
Donald Collier
(Tello
1956:
fig. 41),
showing
a
regularly
laid
out, symmetrical mound,
is based
more on
knowledge
of
typical "early55
mound
layout
than
actual evidence. Our first
map (Pozorski
and Pozorski
1987:
fig. 46)
takes into account the
magnitude
of Initial
Period construction evident in
major
level
changes
and
general
site
configuration
but does not
clearly
differentiate
between Initial Period construction and later
Early
Hori-
zon alterations.
About 500 cal
B.C.,
people
moved back onto the
mound,
leveled much of the Initial Period
architecture,
knocked down substantial
walls,
and converted much of
the summit into a level surface
upon
which to build mod-
est
rooms, plazas, courtyards,
and
small,
free-standing
mounds. These new settlers collected stones from wall de-
bris or
stripped
Initial Period wall faces to obtain con-
struction material for use in their
buildings.
Several
deep
Initial Period rooms on the mound summit were
initially
mistaken for looters' holes
(Pozorski
and Pozorski 1987:
73)
because
facing
stones for the walls and fill had been re-
moved.
Early
Horizon
mining
of the adobe core for
silty
clay
to
recycle
into mortar and
plaster
has left a
large
cen-
tral
depression.
As
part
of this
process,
most of the
poly-
chrome friezes of the adobe core and the main summit
room were
destroyed.
A
cap
of 30 to 100 cm of brownish
midden that covers much of the mound summit is also at-
tributable to this
Early
Horizon
occupation.
The
following examples
reveal the extent of
Early
Hori-
zon alterations of the surface of the main mound. In one
35 x 20 m area on the summit
(figs. 8k, 12)
there are two
courtyards,
three raised
platforms (1
to 2 m
high),
and sev-
eral
rooms,
wall
segments,
and benches. Near the main en-
trance to the summit room
(fig. 8h),
remains of cane and
mud houses as well as stone houses were found within the
upper
strata of the
Early
Horizon midden.
Early
Horizon
people
razed the taller Initial Period
walls,
including
most of the
large
summit room
walls,
and
used the resultant loose material to create a level surface as
well as to build their own structures. Much of this materi-
al was moved to the
east, initially
via the main entrance of
the summit room.
Then,
as material
accumulated,
addi-
tional construction debris was
pushed
into the inset central
staircase and over associated
landings
(fig. 13).
In the
up-
per atrium,
the inset staircase
system
was sealed
by
a 1.5 m
high
stone wall of reused stones. Rubble behind this wall
leveled the
upper
atrium
by filling
the staircase. One date
of 290 70 cal B.C.
(table i)
came from an
Early
Hori-
zon hearth in the midden
overlying
this fill and a date of
160 75 cal B.C.
(table i)
came from a second intrusive
hearth
overlying
Haldas Phase architecture in the north
wing
of the
upper
atrium.
Middle Horizon and "Transitional" Period
Post-Early
Horizon
occupations
of the main mound are
ephemeral. Surprisingly,
almost no Casma Incised ceram-
ics have been found at the site. The Middle Horizon
(a.d.
600-1000)
and the "Transitional"
Period,
the
poorly-
known transition between the Middle Horizon and the
Late Intermediate Period
(ca.
a.d.
1000-1470)
on the
north coast of
Peru,
are
represented primarily by
intrusive
burials.
All but one of the Middle Horizon burials were found
within
depressions
in the adobe core from which con-
struction material had been mined
(fig. 8a).
These burials
had all been
disturbed,
some more
heavily
than others. The
burials were in extended
positions,
either on their sides or
face
down,
and some disturbed llama burials were also
found
alongside
the human remains. A few vessels
painted
red- white- black
provide
the
primary
evidence for
assigning
these burials to the Middle Horizon. One other intrusive
burial,
found within wall debris at the bottom of the
deep
depression just
east of the adobe
core,
contained a seated
individual associated with a corroded
copper trumpet.
Three intrusive bundle burials were cut into the
landing
of the Moxeke Phase A staircase on the north
wing.
Two
contained
seated,
flexed infants and one was of an adult fe-
male. These burials are
tentatively
dated to the Transition-
al Period based on associated blackware vessels
(Carol
Mackey, personal
communication
2002).
Other flexed and
extended burials without associated
diagnostic grave
goods
encountered on the north
wing
and in the summit
room are also
tentatively assigned
to the Transitional Peri-
od based on their
stratigraphic positions, body treatment,
and
proximity (in
the case of the north
wing examples)
to
the bundle burials. A few isolated
dog
burials encountered
in the north
wing
area
may
also date to this time
period.
156 Architecture and
Chronology
at Sechin
Alto,
Casma
Valley,
Peru/Pozorski
and Pozorski
Figure
12. Plan of
Early
Horizon architecture located on the summit of
the main Sechin Alto mound.
One other ceramic
type, possibly dating
to the Transi-
tional Period or the Late Intermediate
Period,
was associ-
ated with a
very
late enclosure of
dry-laid
stones that
par-
tially
covered the summit room.
Diagnostic
ceramics in-
clude redware decorated with lizard
appliques.
Chronological Summary
Chronological
information from Sechin Alto indicates
that the lower two-thirds of the main mound dates to
Moxeke Phase A. How much additional time is
represent-
ed
by
the more than 20 m of
unexplored
construction in
the lower
part
of the mound is a matter of
speculation.
We
believe one or two massive earlier construction
phases
date
to the
beginning
of the Initial Period
(ca.
2150 cal
B.C.)
and are
contemporary
with the earliest
occupations
at Pam-
pa
de las Llamas-Moxeke and Cerro Sechin
(Fuchs
1997:
158;
Pozorski and Pozorski 1992:
852)
as well as Las Hal-
das
(Pozorski
and Pozorski 1987:
10-11, 21-23).
The exact
configuration
of the mound
during
Moxeke
Phase A is unknown because it is obscured
by
Moxeke
Phase B construction. Based on available
evidence,
howev-
er,
the adobe core would have been the tallest
part
of the
mound, standing
some 9 m above the
surrounding
archi-
tecture. East of this
core,
a
courtyard
bordered
by square-
room units was
probably present.
Access to this
courtyard
area was via the lower inset central staircase.
The
upper
one-third of the main mound was added dur-
ing
Moxeke Phase B. It reveals the
general tendency
of Ini-
tial Period
people
to adhere to
specific
architectural tenets
over
long periods
of time. Much of the
general
mound
configuration
visible
today
followed earlier Moxeke Phase
A architectural
patterns
seen at
Pampa
de las Llamas-Mox-
eke and Taukachi-Konkan. The main mound reached its
present height
and
clearly
attained a
U-shaped configura-
tion
during
Moxeke Phase
B;
the summit
room,
the
wing
structures,
four
rectangular plazas,
and two sunken circular
plazas
were also
probably
constructed
during
this
period.
All these
changes happened quickly
ca. 1500 to 1400 cal
B.C.
The Haldas
Phase,
dated to ca. 1400-1000 cal B.C. near
the end of the Initial
Period,
saw
relatively
little construc-
tion on the main mound.
Only
the intrusive
courtyard
and
room
complex
on the north
wing
of the
upper
atrium can
be
securely
attributed to this
phase.
Additional Las Haldas
type
ceramics occur
sporadically
on the remainder of the
mound, perhaps representing
a brief reuse of Moxeke
Phase architecture.
Significant
differences in architecture
and ceramics
separate
the Haldas Phase from the Moxeke
Phase. The modular
square-room
unit was
replaced by
shared-wall room blocks with fewer rounded corners and
rear entrances.
Pampa
de las Llamas-Moxeke
type
ceramics
were
abruptly replaced by
Las Haldas
type
ceramics.
The
Early
Horizon
occupation
of the main mound
caused
heavy damage
to Sechin Alto as
portions
of the
mound summit were leveled and construction material was
taken to build numerous small
platforms,
rooms,
and
courts on the
newly
leveled surface. This
occupation
start-
ed ca. 500 cal B.C. and lasted a few hundred
years, produc-
ing
substantial midden material that covers much of the
surface
today. Many
more
people probably
lived on the
mound
during
the
Early
Horizon than at
any previous
or
subsequent
time
period.
Use of the mound
during
the Middle
Horizon,
the
"Transitional"
Period,
and the Late Intermediate Period
was
sparse,
confined to occasional use of the mound sur-
face as a burial area and for the construction of a few rus-
tic rooms. Such reuse of
early
mounds was common
among
late
Prehispanic peoples
who
evidently
still
regard-
ed earlier mounds
worthy
of use as burial areas.
Conclusions
The
following
is an examination of how Sechin Alto site
and the main mound fit into the Sechin Alto
polity
as a
Journal of
Field Arch
neology /Vol. 30,
2005 157
Figure
13. Profile
looking
north of wall fall and
dumped
debris
deposited during
the
Early
Horizon and
overlying
the conical adobe brick staircase located
just
east of the main entrance to the summit room.
whole. We examine the
polity's
economic and
population
base,
evidence of a
preconceived plan
maintained
through
several
generations,
evidence of
strong
bureaucratic con-
trol
through
architectural units emblematic of administra-
tive
activity,
and details
reflecting interdependence among
sites within the
polity.
The recent
recognition
of the
Supe-Pativilca-Fortaleza
Valley
zone south of Casma as the
likely prepottery
center
of
origin
for Andean civilization focused the world's atten-
tion on the
archaeology
of Peru
(Haas, Creamer,
and Ruiz
2004, 2005; Shady 1997; Shady, Hass,
and Creamer
2001).
Sizeable
preceramic
sites there are located well in-
land in
optimum
areas for canals and
generally adjacent
to
large
areas of arable land. Successive centuries of
irrigation
agriculture
have obscured these
early
canal
systems,
but
settlement
pattern
data and
significant
increases in the
amount and
variety
of cultivated
species argue
for the exis-
tence of
early irrigation systems (Moseley
1992:
126;
Po-
zorski and Pozorski 1979:
426).
Preceramic antecedents
on the central coast
inspired
similar Initial Period
develop-
ments in river
valleys
to the north and
south,
and the
grandest,
the Sechin Alto
polity,
occurred in Casma. Most
large
inland mounds face
upriver
toward the source of the
water that was essential to this new
way
of
life,
and
they
lie
outside the limits of cultivation to maximize arable land. In
contrast,
Sechin Alto
site,
the
polity capital, signals
its im-
portance by occupying
fertile land in the
valley
center. Al-
though large-scale irrigation agriculture
was the norm
along
much of the Peruvian coast
by
Initial Period
times,
the Casma
Valley
stands out
among
these coastal
valleys.
We attribute this to the
unusually
efficient control and ef-
fective
management
of the
irrigation system
that
provided
the
impetus
for the
population
and construction boom
that culminated in the Sechin Alto
polity
and its accom-
plishments (Pozorski
and Pozorski
1987, 1992, 2002).
The Sechin Alto
polity
functioned as a unified whole for
158 Architecture and
Chronology
at Sechin
Alto,
Casma
Valley,
Peru/Pozorski
and Pozorski
some 500
years, managing
the
irrigation system
and its
products, constructing
monumental architecture of un-
precedented magnitude,
and
functionally integrating
a
suite of distinct communities. This
unity
is reflected in ar-
tifact
types,
architectural
elements,
architectural
tenets,
and
foodstuffs that are shared
among
the communities. At a
very
basic level is the
square-room unit,
a modular archi-
tectural element that
signals
administrative
presence.
First
recognized
at
Pampa
de las
Llamas-Moxeke,
the
square-
room unit is characterized
by
rounded exterior
corners,
8-12 wall niches well above the
floor,
a
carpet
of reed mat-
ting,
raised
thresholds,
and bar closure mechanisms to re-
strict access. It is used
repeatedly
at
Pampa
de las Llamas-
Moxeke in modules.
Thirty-eight square-room
units form
the
storage
modules that create a
huge
warehouse on Hua-
ca
A,
one of the two main mounds at the site. A cluster of
compounds,
formed of
single square-room
unit
modules,
lie on either side of Huaca A where
they probably
served
to monitor or
regulate
access to and from the mound.
Square-room
unit modules form the central rooms of over
100
structures, aligned
with the site axis and
facing
the site
center,
that
comprise
the east and west sides of the site.
These intermediate-sized mounds are
interpreted
as ad-
ministrative structures because their architecture is well-
built, clean,
and similar in
layout
to Huaca A and because
of the
presence
of occasional
stamp
and
cylinder
seals of
fired
clay.
The few intermediate-sized mounds that deviate
from the
prevailing alignment
face roads that enter the site
from the east and west and
probably
monitored intersite
movement of
goods
and
people.
In this context the inter-
mediate-sized mounds
may
have
provided
a third adminis-
trative tier to
regulate
the movement of
products among
Huaca
A,
the
support communities,
and other
contempo-
rary
Casma
Valley
centers
(Pozorski
and Pozorki
1991,
1994).
At
Pampa
de las
Llamas-Moxeke,
small
square-
room unit modules were also discovered within areas of
residential architecture that
yielded ample
evidence of cot-
tage
industries such as textile
production.
In this
context,
these administrative modules
may
have controlled this
facet of the local economic
system.
At Taukachi-Konkan
and Sechin
Alto, square-room
units were also found in
probable
administrative contexts within monumental ar-
chitecture,
and Cerro Sechin consists of at least three con-
centric modules.
The
pervasiveness
of the
square-room
unit at Sechin Al-
to
polity
sites reveals that the
component
communities
shared a common administrative
"language," expressed
ar-
chitecturally.
Varied functions for
major
mounds at other
sites
provide
additional evidence of
interdependence
among
the sites. At
Pampa
de las
Llamas-Moxeke,
one of
the two main mounds functioned as a
temple,
based on its
highly-visible
friezes and
large, publicly-
accessible
plazas,
whereas the second functioned as a
large
warehouse for
storing
comestibles and other valuables
(Pozorski
and Po-
zorski
1991, 1994, 1998).
The
largest
mound at Taukachi-
Konkan is
interpreted
as a
palace
because it contains both
public space
for
receiving
elite
guests
and
private
residen-
tial
quarters.
We
propose
that the immense Sechin Alto site
main mound was the
overarching
administrative center
bringing
"church and state"
together by combining
the re-
ligious precinct
of the adobe core with
adjacent square-
room unit administrative elements. The net result is a col-
lection of
major
inland sites with
complementary
roles,
that,
taken
together, comprise
a cohesive whole.
Contemporary
coastal sites were
integrated
into the
Sechin Alto
polity through
a subsistence
exchange system.
Bahia
Seca, Tortugas,
and
Huaynuna
were semi-au-
tonomous
fishing villages during
the Late Preceramic Peri-
od
(Pozorski
and Pozorski 1987:
12-16,
1992:
848-850).
With the introduction of
irrigation
and ceramics and the
rise of
large
inland centers
during
the
subsequent
Initial
Period,
these sites became satellites
providing
much-need-
ed animal
protein
in the form of fish and shellfish. These
were
exchanged
for
cultigens
such as
beans,
lima
beans,
potatoes,
sweet
potatoes, peanuts,
cotton, gourds,
and
squash grown
near the inland centers. Evidence of control
of these sites
by
the inland centers is seen at Bahia Seca
which has an intermediate-sized mound with a
square-
room unit module at its
center, just
like the mid-level ad-
ministrative mounds at
Pampa
de las
Llamas-Moxeke,
Taukachi-Konkan,
and Sechin Alto
(Pozorski
and Pozorski
1992:
fig. 2).
We estimate that
approximately
18,000 people
inhabit-
ed the Sechin Alto
Complex
at its
apogee
and that
outly-
ing
sites
integrated
into the
polity
had an additional
popu-
lation of almost 5000
people.
These estimates are based on
data from
Pampa
de las
Llamas-Moxeke,
the
best-preserved
Casma
Valley
Initial Period site. Two-thirds of the site lies
outside areas of modern
cultivation,
and it is
relatively
un-
affected
by
later
occupation
and natural forces. We deter-
mined that
approximately
7% of the total site area was oc-
cupied by
residential architecture
comprising
some 500
structures.
Using
a conservative estimate of five
persons
per
structure
(
=
2500
persons)
and
correcting
for the one-
third of the site under modern cultivation
(=
1250
per-
sons),
we calculated the residential
population
of
Pampa
del las Llamas-Moxeke to be
approximately
3750
people.
Extrapolating
to the Sechin Alto
Complex,
which is 4.77
times
larger
than
Pampa
de las
Llamas-Moxeke,
we
get
a
figure approaching
18,000.
The
remaining
estimated
pop-
ulation of 1200
persons,
is based on the combined areas of
the coastal sites which were almost
totally
residential.
Journal of
Field
Archaeology [Vol. 30,
2005 159
The Sechin Alto
political
and economic
system,
with ar-
chitectural
accomplishments
that make the Casma
Valley
unrivaled in the entire New World for its time
period,
be-
gan
to weaken near the end of the Moxeke Phase. Two
sig-
nificant events evident in the
archaeological
record
may
help explain
this decline. One is the
great
battle or massacre
depicted
in the Cerro Sechin carved-stone
facade,
where
the warriors and the victims can be
clearly distinguished by
their dress.
Significantly,
the victims in the Cerro Sechin
carvings
wear the same
pleated
skirts and
scalloped
tunics
as the immense
god-like
or
priest-like figures
that adorn
the facade of the
temple
mound at
Pampa
de las Llamas-
Moxeke
(Kauffmann
1983:
179;
Pozorski 1987:
27;
Tello
1956:
154, 159).
In the absence of evidence of attack
by
external enemies at this
time,
the Cerro Sechin
iconogra-
phy suggests
internal strife. More
specifically,
it shows that
insurgence by
a faction from the southern
Pampa
de las
Llamas-Moxeke branch had been
quelled
and its leaders ex-
ecuted.
Second,
about 1400 cal
B.C.,
a
large-scale
El Nino
event struck the Casma
Valley
area. This is
clearly
docu-
mented at Cerro Sechin and was observed on Huaca A at
Pampa
de las Llamas-Moxeke. El Nino
damage
on one ma-
jor
mound was
partially repaired,
but the site was aban-
doned soon after this event.
The Sechin Alto
polity responded during
Moxeke Phase
B
by consolidating
its
leadership
at Sechin Alto site and
by
altering
the main mound to
tangibly represent
this
politi-
cal
restructuring.
The main mound was
expanded by
rais-
ing
its summit elevation some 9 m to the
height
of the sur-
face of the adobe core. A
huge square-room
unit was built
east of the
core,
and the four
rectangular plazas
and two cir-
cular
plazas
and their
bordering
mounds were also con-
structed at this time. The east face of the summit room was
covered with an immense
polychrome
frieze
readily
visible
from the
plazas
below. The two circular sunken
plazas
within the row of
plazas,
like
amphitheaters, may
have held
localized rituals or
spectacles
as a means of
bringing
cere-
monies closer to the
people.
This would seem to
give
the
main mound a more
public
orientation, perhaps
to reas-
sure
uneasy
citizens.
A number of characteristics of Sechin Alto site and the
polity
it headed
argue convincingly
for the
emergence
of
state-level
political organization
in the Casma
Valley by
Initial Period times. The sheer
magnitude
of construction
involving building phases represented by
hundreds of
thousands of cubic meters of stones and earth documents
the leaders'
capacity
to mobilize and
support
a
huge
labor
force drawn from a sizable
population.
Careful
planning,
typified by Pampa
de las
Llamas-Moxeke,
Taukachi-
Konkan,
and Sechin Alto where
huge
central mounds es-
tablish the sites' axes and rows of
aligned, subsidiary
mounds face
inwards,
was seen at
spatially-
distinct loci and
maintained
through
several centuries. Varied mounds with
distinct functions at distinct sites document
interdepen-
dence
among
the
major
sites. Within these
sites,
the
square-room
unit architectural form
persists
as an emblem
of
political power
and bureaucratic control. Such demon-
strated
longevity
of a
preconceived plan argues
for a
lineage
of rulers who maintained their
hegemony
across
many gen-
erations. The "master
plan"
conceived
by
these rulers was
executed with
precision.
At
Pampa
de las Llamas-Moxeke
where
preservation
is
optimal,
for
example,
the mound
fronts that define the
longest alignment
are still within 15
cm of a
perfectly straight
line across a distance of more than
700
m,
even after over 3500
years
of
exposure
to the ele-
ments
(Pozorski
and Pozorski
1989, 1994).
A clear five-
level
hierarchy
in the settlement
pattern
is reflected in de-
creasing
site
magnitude, ranging
from the
largest capital
site of Sechin
Alto, through
the
secondary
centers of Pam-
pa
de las Llamas-Moxeke and
Taukachi-Konkan, tertiary
centers of Sechin
Bajo
and Cerro
Sechin,
to the lesser
coastal sites-
including
the administrative center of Bahia
Seca with its subsidiaries at
Tortugas
and
Huaynuna.
No-
ticeably lacking,
however,
are burials rich in
grave goods
indicative of ascribed status. It
seems, rather,
that
conspic-
uous
consumption, ideology,
and artistic achievement
were manifested
through
monumental architecture and its
accouterments because
metallurgy
was not
yet
known and
ceramic, stone,
and textile
technologies
were still
develop-
ing.
This detailed reconstruction of
early political
and eco-
nomic
development
within the Casma
Valley
is based on
our excavations at nine
Preceramic,
Initial
Period,
and Ear-
ly
Horizon sites
plus
data
compiled by
other
investigators.
The result
provides
an
in-depth
look at the Sechin Alto
polity,
the
grandest development
in the New World from
ca. 2150 to 1400 cal B.C. We have documented features of
one of the earliest Andean
states, including
the essential
characteristics of its
sites,
the economic and
population
base,
and the internal and external variables
contributing
to
its demise. These data allow
comparison
between the Cas-
ma
Valley
and other world areas where
complex society
evolved.
Acknowledgments
Funding
for the
investigations
of the Sechin Alto site
was
provided by
National Science Foundation
grant
SBR-
9806833,
the H.
John
Heinz III Fund of the Heinz Fam-
ily
Foundation,
the Curtiss T. Brennan and
Mary
G. Bren-
nan
Foundation,
the American
Philosophical Society,
and
the
Faculty
Research Council of the
University
of Texas
-
Pan American. Permission to excavate was
granted by
the
160 Architecture and
Chronology
at Sechin
Alto,
Casma
Valley,
Peru/Pozorski
and Pozorski
Institute) Nacional de Cultura. The authors wish to thank
Bobbie Lovett who has worked with us as a
colleague
and
field
supervisor
for
many
seasons as well as German
Yenque
(2000-2001)
and Rosa Marin
(2002)
who served as co-di-
rectors of the
project during
the final three field seasons.
The authors also
gratefully acknowledge
the
participation
of the
following
students and
colleagues
in the excavations
of the site:
Cheryl Daggett,
Richard
Daggett, Georgina
Di-
az,
Omar
Fonseca, Juan Garcia,
Rosaura
Garcia, Lydia
Garry,
Marina
Garza,
Brooke
Guelker, Angelica
Guzman,
Tania
Lopez,
Okie
Reyes, Abigail Segovia,
and
Jessica
Villescaz. Artifact
drawings
are
by
Felix Farro. We would
also like to thank one reviewer who
encouraged
us to "of-
fer some
conjectures"
in our conclusions.
Thomas Pozorski
(Ph.D. University of
Texas at
Austin, 1976)
and Shelia Pozorski
(Ph.D. University of
Texas at
Austin,
1976)
are
professors of Anthropology
at the
University of
Texas-Pan American and have conducted
archaeological
inves-
tigations
in Peru since 1970. Their research concerns the
study
of
the
development of early
civilization
along
the coast
of
Peru.
Mailing
address:
Department of Psychology
and
Anthropolo-
gy, University of
Texas-Pan
American, Bdinburg,
TX 75841.
E-mail:
tpozorski@panam.edu, spozorski@panam.edu
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