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Inka Storage Capacity

The location, amount, and distribution of storage qolqas provide important information on Inka strategies of labor organization, the empire’s extractive capacity, and the role played by the Inka regional centers in these processes. The Inka are known for using two main forms of storage. These facilities can be placed adjacent to the Inka administrative centers, or, alternatively, they can be dispersed throughout the region (D’Altroy and Earle 1992:195). This difference in location reflects distinct imperial strategies. On the one hand, storage facilities inside or adjacent to the administrative center were common when storage, consumption, and the mobilization of products to higher settlement nodes were activities organized and allocated by the administrative center. On the other hand, storage facilities were dispersed in the region when production and storage were simultaneous tasks taking place in state farmlands or in the producing villages.

To illustrate, Huanuco Pampa in central Peru exemplifies the situation of an administrative center that concentrated most of the region’s storage capacity. While the warehouses were spread out on the upper sections of the adjacent hills in the center, they were almost nonexistent in the local resident villages (Morris and Thompson 1985; LeVine 1992:114). In comparison, Hatun Xauxa in the Mantaro Valley is an example of an administrative center that contained roughly half of the region’s storage capacity within a kilometer of the center, whereas the other half was distributed throughout the valley (D’Altroy 1992:165-175).

In light of these two possibilities, the storage strategies used in the Oroncota region were examined. The analysis revealed that the Valley zone had a low number of warehouses (n=16) in comparison with those in the Pucara Plateau (n=66) (Table 4.5). This distribution suggests that although spatially dispersed, the Inka sites of the Pucara Plateau were more

Table 4.5. Storage facilities in the Oroncota region


Size (ha)

Number of qolqas




Distance in km to Oroncota

Storage volume in bandsa

S-1:Oroncota C.


5 circular q.



0 km



13 circular q.



0.4 km

  • 0-1 km =
  • 936 m3



4 circular q.


208 m3

1.3 km



12 circular q.


624 m3

1.4 km



16 circular q.



1.5 km

1-2 km = 1,664 m3



10 circular q.


520 m3

2.4 km

2-3 km = 520 m3



6 circular q.


312 m3

4.6 km

4-5 km = 312 m3




10 rectang. q.


710 m3

5.9 km

5-6 km = 710 m3




6 circular q. 82 qolqas


312 m3 4,454 m3

6.9 km

6-7 km = 312 m3

Note: The storage volume indexes were taken from D’Altroy and Earle (1992:183-185). This includes 52 m3 for circular qolqas and 71 m3 for rectangular warehouses. a Each band is 1 km.

Total 82 qolqas 4,454 m3

involved in storing resources, whereas the sites in the Valley zone were more concerned with production. Nevertheless, the scale and magnitude of storage at the Oroncota sites was small in comparison with other major administrative centers. For example, in the nearby valley of Cochabamba, nearly 2,500 storehouses were documented, possibly destined for export and to support the needs of the imperial army (Gyarmati 1998; Gyarmati and Varga 1999, 1998; Wachtel 1982). Other provincial centers had a relatively smaller storage capacity, particularly considering that the resources were invested locally to finance the regional administration (D’Altroy 1992; D’Altroy and Hastorf 1992; D’Altroy and Earle 1992). Table 4.6 compares the storage capacity of Oroncota with that of other Inka provinces. Although it is possible that we missed some scattered qolqas in the survey, the small-scale nature of the storage facilities in Oroncota is evident. This suggests a minimum expression of the staple finance that characterized the Inka political economy in many other areas.

Table 4.6. Comparison of Oroncota storage capacity in relation to other Inka provinces

Region Number of Storehouses


Mantaro Valley


D’Altroy and Earle 1992:188

Cotapachi, Cochabamba


Gyarmati and Varga 1999:46

Huanuco Pampa


Morris and Thompson 1992:155

Willka Waman


Gasparini and Margolies 1980:293



A regression analysis of the storage capacity as a function of distance to understand concentration and dispersion patterns was also performed (Figure 4.20). Based on the number and shape of the warehouses, the average storage volume for each site was calculated. With this information, the volume capacity for each kilometer radius band from the Oroncota building complex was estimated (D’Altroy and Earle 1992:183-185; D’Altroy 1992:164). The analysis revealed that distance alone cannot explain the distribution of the warehouses (R2 of 0.32, SEAy=416.13). Although there was a slight decrease in storage capacity over space, there was a marked concentration within the 1-2 km band. In contrast, the Oroncota building complex had few warehouses. Taking into account that between 1 km and 2 km there was a concentration of small domestic settlements, this might suggest a strategy of placing the storage qolqas in areas populated

Regression analysis showing the correlation of storage volume as a function of distance (Oroncota region)

Figure 4.20. Regression analysis showing the correlation of storage volume as a function of distance (Oroncota region).

by the agrarian villages. Furthermore, considering that the Plateau is not the most productive area and that no large-scale agricultural terraces were found within, this pattern suggests that the organization of storage was reasonably decentralized.

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