Understanding Andean concepts of death and renewal: new insights to Prehispanic sacrality and sepulchral culture

Laguna de Llanganuco, Yungay, Ancash, Peru, April 27, 2008 | © Courtesy of David Almeida/Flickr.
Laguna de Llanganuco, Yungay, Ancash, Peru, April 27, 2008 | © Courtesy of David Almeida/Flickr.

Research in the Andes has yielded evidence for a complex association between settlement sites and mortuary monuments, tied to concepts of death, ancestor veneration and water.

A Blog Article by Eric Merkel-Sobotta.


In the case-study Carved Rocks and Subterranean Burials at Kipia, Ancash, AD 1000 – 1532 published in De Gruyter’s journal Open Archaeology, authors Kevin Lane, Emma Pomeroy and Milton Reynaldo Lújan Davila analyse the Prehispanic-Spanish Colonial multi-faceted site of Kipia, in the Ancash highlands in Peru.

The site contains two small settlements, a cosmological centre, and a funerary sector of subterranean tombs. The author’s study reveals the stunning relation between ceremonial sites and cemeteries which underpins complex Andean concepts of death and renewal. […]

In the Prehispanic Andes the landscape was innately animated, and Kipia is positioned at the center of its particular physical environment. In this sense, Kipia was not just a repository for the dead, but more widely a place of communion between the living and the departed, associated to the central huaca-huanca, and the other carved rock-faces.

The importance of Kipia lies in its role as a local huaca dedicated to the lightening deity in which overt manifestations of life and death cohabited. In turn, Kipia linked into a network of other larger potentially sacred sites, such as the lakes.

Excavated, comparative highland Late Intermediate Period (AD 1000–1450) tombs are limited, especially ones linked to important sacred sites. In synthesis, this study makes a valuable contribution to the very limited literature on the use of communal burial structures in the Andes that is based on excavation, detailed osteological analysis and is in direct connection with a particular sacred landscape.

Dr. Alexis Mantha, an expert on Andean Archeology from Université Montréal, outlines:  “This article provides a very interesting and rare case study of a complex animated ritual landscape in the highlands of Ancash, Peru, during late Andean prehistory. The authors convincingly examine the intricate ritual relationships among the skeletal content of a subterranean tomb (pukullo) and other features of the surrounding landscape such as a stone monolith (huanca), peaks and highland lakes.”

Written by Eric Merkel-Sobotta.

Edited by Pablo Markin.


Featured Image Credits: Laguna de Llanganuco, Yungay, Ancash, Peru, April 27, 2008 | © Courtesy of David Almeida/Flickr.

This post is based on a press release that originally appeared in De Gruyter, 15/05/2018, https://www.degruyter.com/dg/newsitem/282/understanding-andean-concepts-of-death-and-renewal-new-insights-to-prehispanic-sacrality-and-sepulchral-culture.


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