Spring/Summer 00

Archaeology in the Andes
by Chip Stanish

Collasuyu Program provides the infrastructural support for a number of archaeological research projects in the region


The Collasuyu Program promotes archaeological research in the Lake Titicaca Basin of Peru and Bolivia. The program, founded in 1997 and co–directed by Edmundo de la Vega of the National Technical University of the Altiplano in Puno, Peru, provides the infrastructural support for a number of archaeological research projects in the region. To date, over two dozen excavation and survey projects have been completed in the Lake Titicaca Basin under the program’s auspices.

The program is based in Puno, Peru, the cultural center of the Titicaca region and the second largest town in the area next to the industrial city of Juliaca 50 km to the north, with over fifty thousand people and a developing tourist economy. We currently share a house with colleagues from the University of California, Santa Barbara, in a formal agreement known as “Asociación Collasuyu.” The house provides living space for twenty-five people and is complete with laboratories, storage space, and a modest library and office. Eligible scholars can join the association for a small yearly fee. Membership permits scholars to use the house, truck, storage, and other facilities at cost, enabling any qualified scholar to efficiently conduct research in the region at a modest cost.

In 1998, I completed a research effort (known as the Juli Project), a forerunner to the Collasuyu Program. We excavated two archaeological sites near the town of Juli that borders the lake. These sites, named Tumatumani and Pucara Juli, spanned the entire range of agricultural settlement in the western Titicaca Basin. The Juli Project was renamed the Lupaqa Project, an expanded survey and excavation program in the southwestern Titicaca Basin. The name refers to the pre–Inca kingdom that flourished in the region in the eleventh through fifteenth centuries AD.

Since that time, we have excavated a number of sites in the region and surveyed over 1500 km2 for archaeological sites. Our project has also collaborated in rescue efforts. In 1995, for example, at the request of Peruvian authorities, Edmundo de la Vega, Kirk Frye (a doctoral candidate at the University of California, Santa Barbara), and several other colleagues conducted a rescue project at a burial cave near the lake, in which the remains of over fifty mummies were recovered.

In 1997, Edmundo de la Vega and I created the current Collasuyu Program with the goal of surveying and excavating areas in the entire Titicaca Basin in both Peru and Bolivia. In 1998, Pucara Valley research was initiated as a dissertation project by Amanda Cohen, a student at UCLA. The Pucara Valley is home to one of the oldest and most important cultures and sites of the central Andes. A full coverage regional survey was conducted in the valley, covering terrain north and south of Pucara and on both sides of the river. The survey aimed to define the settlement patterns in the site area of Pucara: its rise, height, and decline. Almost 150 sites were identified from all prehistoric time periods, most of them only identified. In 1998 research was initiated east of Pucara in the far northern Titicaca Basin in the archaeologically unknown valleys of Huancané and Putina. A survey made of the northern portion of the Huancané/Putina Valley located over sixty sites, almost all merely discovered. This valley is the last major agricultural zone prior to the pass over the mountains into the Amazon forest. Work in this valley will help us understand the role of Amazonian forest trade in the development of complex society in the Titicaca Basin. One site discovered, a large temple site known as Cachichupa, is currently being excavated. The excavations are directed by Aimée Plourde, a doctoral candidate at UCLA. Elizabeth Arkush, Laura Gilliam, and Carol Shultze, three other doctoral students at UCLA, began work toward their dissertation research in the northern Titicaca Basin.

In 1999, research began on the Ollachia River Valley on the eastern side of Lake Titicaca Basin. Dozens of archaeological sites dating to AD 1100 or later were discovered. It was found that pre–Incans, probably affiliated with the Calla of northern Altiplano, built a road into the gold–producing region of Carabaya/Sandia. On top of these sites, the Inca built a number of imperial installations to control this rich trade route. Further research will focus on this area to attempt to determine the role that tropical goods played in the evolution of complex society in the highlands.

The Collasuyu Program continues to be a vibrant and growing research program, with doctoral students from UCLA and other universities as well as Peruvian students who are working on their Bachelor’s and Licenciate theses. Modest capital investments in the house have improved working conditions and research facilities. The library continues to expand and our collaboration with Peruvian scholars grows stronger every year. We look forward to many years of research in one of the most fascinating places on the globe.

Charles (Chip) Stanish is Associate Professor in the Department of Anthropology. All Backdirt authors can be reached by email at ioapubs@ucla.edu.