FRAL - Programme franco-allemand en SHS

Center and Periphery : Archaeology of Paracas Territory, Southern Peru (800-200 BC). – Paracas

Pre-hispanic Peru : Paracas territory ; center and periphery

The socio-political interplays between the coast and the cordillera in southern Peru in the Paracas era (800-200 av. J.-C.).

Characterize the Paracas cultural and political domains

Paracas culture is known in general either through textils and ceramics of which most lack archeological contexts, or through mummies with flamboyant clothing exhumed in the Wari Kayan cementery, located in the eponym peninsula. Few studies have broached the topic of the Paracas' territorial dynamic.<br /><br />Our project is to characterize the Paracas cultural and political domain. It’s a question of identifying ground settelment modes in the Paracas nuclear area, Ica’s valley (Callango and Ocucaje) and in the peripherical area (Sierra de Palpa ; Collanco and Cutamalla). The layout of the sites, installation plans, their architectonic characteristics and the associated artefacts, used for founding principles for characterize Paracas culture.<br /><br />The cultural and political domain definitions allow to theorize the center (s) and peripheric dialectic taking an interest in regional interactions (coast-cordillera). It is also possible to study the articulation of the different Paracas lands in relation to the paleo-environment of the different occupied ecological areas. The links of the sites with their geographical contexts is an important factor to understand the economical and social systems of the Paracas culture. At last, the project expects to explore the trade roads and ways that connect the different establishments in the Paracas inland region.<br /><br />

During this schedule of the ground study, the southern Peru area will benefit from a geographical study linked with an archeological approach. The studied ecological areas will be subjected to geomorphological, climatological and economical analysis. Classical methods (prospecting ; topographical plot, core drillings and extensive digs) geomagnetical propecting will be added, linked with pedestral searches.

The Paracas nuclear area, the Ica valley analyzed by the french team of the Research Center on prehispanic America, concerns two sites : Fundo Castro (Callango) and Cordova (Ocucaje) ; the peripherical area will be studied by the DAI German team in Collanco and Cutamalla. Prospecting operations are also planned together with systematic datations along of natural connecting ways or by transects.

The project unites two teams with complementary approaches to archeological groundwork : the German team with the contribution of hard sciences applied to archeology, and the French team whose works are focused on social Paracas and Nazca system analysis, with a multidisciplinary viewpoint.

The Córdova site explored in 2013 by the French team (Aïcha Bachir Bacha, Oscar Daniel Llanos et Christian Duverger) have certainly ceremonial functions but also political, economical and without doubt administrative roles, like other installations implanted on the southern coast of Peru. The archeological complex of Córdova is located in the background of the Ica River. Its implantation on the cerros releases the alluvial plain favourable to agricultural activities, and the area is protected from rises of Rio Ica water levels.

Córdova big mounts contrast with those of Callango that are entirely artificial. The construction materials differ from those that have been revealed in Callango by their diversity (clay blocks, adobe, stones).

For the first time we've been able to highlight the variety of the Paracas constructive systems that could correspond to cultural event tags. In contrast, we noticed a certain unicity of the ceramic materials and textiles in the whole coastal territory of the Paracas.

In this project, geographer Jean Noël Salomon's work consisted in bringing to light the circumstances that allowed the Paracas to get used to the natural environmental constraints. The Rio Ica valley, central area of the Paracas spreading, is located in one of the oldest and dryest deserts in the world (< 3-5 mm/year). The dominant climatic tendancy has always been arid or sub-arid with short humidity stages.

In this region, it is essentially the Rio Ica that supplies the water necessary for human life, and more so because the atmospheric dryness, the potential water loss (> à 2 400 mm/year) and the wind strongly penalize agricultural possibilities. Facing those difficulties, prehispanic men have developped ingenious irrigation systems. The channels and the Rio Ica’s inferoflux allow, in a very satisfactory maner, water supply to cultivation areas.

The two teams are planning common prospection operations of Paracas sites with systematic dating along natural communication chanels or by transect.

Through this project, we hope to raise consciousness among the population concerning the important cultural heritage of the Peruvian coast, which must be protected. We will also contribute to the socio-cultural development of the region, confronted by serious acts of looting of cultural property including fine ceramics and textiles of great scientific value. In the short term, it is important to define the explored sites, and in the long term, to consider ways to conserve and highlight the monuments with a goal of opening them up to the public in the future.


During the first millennium before our era, in the Andean central area, occurs a cultural leap that shows itself archeologically through an homogeneous stylistic horizon (style Chavín). The Paracas culture (800-200 BC) is the regional expression of Chavín influence on the south coast of Peru. So far, this culture was known through spectacular mummies accompanied of textiles and polychrome ceramics, disclosed in necropolis of the barren coast, in particular in the peninsula of Paracas and in the valley of Ica. The last century brought only very few information about the Paracas society, the nature of its establishments and its habits. But, recently, were discovered new Paracas sites more to the south of the valley of Ica, as well as in the mountain range of the Andes. These new data bring us to rethink, at other scale, all the questions concerning of the Paracas society, notably his urban planning and his economical social organization. It will suit equally to analyze the configuration of the Paracas territory, his extension and his settlement patterns. To perform this, next to the traditional references of the ceramics and the textiles, they will be observed other original markers: the monumental architecture, the house architecture, the inscriptions in the landscape (geoglyphs, petroglyphs). At last, while Paracas always was considered as a coastal cultural manifestation, we will look into the relationship that the coast was able to maintain with the sierra. For this purpose, this project will execute for the first time intensive excavations in three strategic sites of the Paracas culture: 1) Animas Bajas, the one of the establishments more vast of the Paracas culture, in the valley of Ica (270 m of altitude). 2) Collanco, a site in terraces, situated in the south periphery of the Paracas territory, in the medium valley of Palpa (1700 of altitude). 3) Cutamalla, a site in the sierra of Palpa, to 3200 m. of altitude, with terraces of agricultural use and deposits destined to the storage of food products. Geomorphic and geo-environmental analysis will be phased with the archaeological study of the three sites.The results of the research will permit to reconstruct determinant aspects, of one of the formative cultures more important of Peru. In France and in Germany it is existing a long tradition of americanistic research. The reduction of the capacities of research in the two countries the latter years renders necessary the international cooperation in order to undertake projects of big breadth. The present bilateral cooperation between Germany and France, based on a complementarity of the approaches and an authentic synergy, inserts itself in the current that stretches to reinforce the networks of scientific cooperation at the European level.

Project coordinator


The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.



Help of the ANR 295,000 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: April 2012 - 36 Months

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