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Public Feasts in the Early Occupation

The celebration of ritual offerings and redistributive festivals in public spaces constituted a critical Inka strategy for consolidating vertical alliances, for political negotiation, and for celebrating victories and military

Detail of the kallanka next to the main plaza (Room-1) in the Oroncota building. The graph shows the western stratigraphic profile

Figure 5.5. Detail of the kallanka next to the main plaza (Room-1) in the Oroncota building. The graph shows the western stratigraphic profile.

collaboration. More important, these celebrations served to introduce subjects to the state religion and Inka ways of life (Hyslop 1990; Mackey 2010; Morris 1982, 1991, 2004; Morris and Thompson 1985). According to Garcilazo de la Vega, these celebrations took place in main squares and plaza areas. As he put it: “Having worshipped the Sun . . . they returned to the main square of the city where a festival was held with many songs and dances and much eating and drinking, which formed the main part of their festivities” (Garcilazo de la Vega 1988 [1609]:348). In other accounts, this author refers to general sacrifices carried out in the main square of the city. Other sacrifices and lesser festivals took place in large plazas in front of the temple, where people of the distinct provinces performed their dances. As a case in point, Morris and Thompson (1985), in their excavations of Huanuco Pampa, found that the plaza in Zone II-B held materials from feasting and ceremonial activities. In this plaza and adjacent structures, there was a predominance of jars, including higher proportions of widemouthed vessels than elsewhere at the site. They interpreted this distribution as evidence of large-scale serving and cooking activities conducted in the main open square. Therefore, the following features are consistent with festivities involving drinking and food consumption in plaza areas and support installations:

  • (a) remains concentrated in open plazas (or public spaces) in comparison with other areas;
  • (b) proportionally higher densities of ceramic remains, pointing to intense food consumption in nondomestic settings;
  • (c) a plaza assemblage with larger proportions of serving vessels like bowls, and less utilitarian cooking and storing jars than in other areas;
  • (d) an absence of craft production artifacts (that is, lithics, spindle whorls tools);
  • (e) a diversity of decorated pottery styles; and
  • (f) organic and bone remains, as evidence of food consumption.

In addition, if these activities were supplemented with storage and foodprocessing activities, there should also be a higher proportion of storing and cooking pottery in the attached facilities. This would signal that storage, food processing, and redistribution were centralized tasks conducted in public installations. To illustrate this relationship, in the Mantaro Valley during the pre-Inka Wanka II period, local elite residences had significantly higher proportions of utilitarian pottery and serving vessels in comparison to commoner residences. These elite segments processed more food and therefore sponsored large feasts in their own homes. After the Inka conquest in the Wanka III period, the native elite residences saw a sharp decline in serving vessels, but not in the amounts of utilitarian cooking pottery. This suggests a shift in the orientation of feasting, considering that the Inka co-opted much of the food redistribution in public ceremonies, whereas food processing remained under the control of the local chiefs (Costin and Earle 1989:708).

My own excavations in one of the Twin Kallankas (Room-1) revealed an emphasis on public food redistribution. The soil stratigraphy was formed by four consecutive layers of ash mixed with broken pottery that alternated with thin layers of clean soil (Figure 5.5). Altogether, these layers denoted four distinct episodes of deposition, followed by concerted efforts to architecturally renovate the floors. Accelerator Mass Spectrometry (AMS) analysis of a carbonized remain from one of the ash layers delivered a calibrated date between A.D. 1422 and A.D. 1444 at one sigma error (68 percent of confidence) (University of Arizona AMS Lab No. AA36939) (Figure 5.6; Table 5.1).

At a broader level, most of the remains were in the kallanka. In fact, this structure held proportionally the highest density of ceramic remains in comparison with the rest of the site. Roughly half of the remains were recovered in this area, revealing the intensity of food consumption and

Calibrated C-14 Accelerator Mass Spectrometry

Figure 5.6. Calibrated C-14 Accelerator Mass Spectrometry (AMS) dating obtained from samples of the Oroncota and Cuzcotuyo Inka centers (NSF Arizona AMS Laboratories). The figure shows calibrated dates at one sigma (black bars) and two sigma errors (white bars). The calibrations were based on Stuiver et al. 2005, CALIB, Radiocarbon Calibration Program.

production that took place in the plaza facilities (Table 5.2). Further, the lack of craft production artifacts (for example, grinding stones, manos, flakes, or spindle whorls) indicates that manufacturing activities did not take place in these public spaces.

Despite the dominance of storage and utilitarian pottery in the aforementioned kallanka (Room-1), there was a relatively higher proportion of decorated and undecorated serving vessels. This higher density is also evident in comparison with other areas (Table 5.2). Some of the decorated

Table 5.1. AMS dating of distinct cultural contexts excavated in the Oroncota and Cuzcotuyo Inka centers


Lab No.

C-14 Age B.P.

Calibrated dates A.D. (one sigma error, 68% probability)

Calibrated dates A.D. (two sigma error, 95% probability)

Cultural context









Unit C-2, Stratum 2-c—hearth associated to living floor

Oroncota: Room-1, TW in main plaza complex






Unit C-12-C-13, Stratum. 3-e, midden from public celebrations







  • 1327-1342
  • 1394-1423
  • 1314-1357
  • 1388-1435

Unit C-16, Stratum 8—hearth (F.11), early Inka occupation

Cuzcotuyo: Eastern Plaza






Unit C-1, Stratum 3, midden from public celebrations

Cuzcotuyo: Room-5 (Twin Rooms)






Unit C-6, Stratum 4-a, hearth associated to early Inka floor

Note: The samples were processed at the NSF Arizona AMS Laboratories (University of Arizona). The table shows calibrated dates at one sigma (66 percent confidence) and two sigma errors (98 percent confidence). The calibrations were based on Stuiver et al. 1986-2015, CALIB, Radiocarbon Calibration Program.

sherds belonged to the Inka Cuzco, Inka regional, and Yampara styles. Imported vessels were absent (Table 5.2). I suggest that rather than direct involvement with feasting, the kallanka was used for storage and dispensing food during the public celebrations held in the plaza. The alternating layers of refuse and ash, along with the intentional resurfacing of the facility, suggest that these activities were performed on a cyclical basis, perhaps as part of a broader ritual calendar. The fact that there were little organic and food remains (with the exception of a few camelid bone fragments) suggests either poor preservation conditions or that the libation of liquids (most likely chicha corn beer) was a dominant feature in these celebrations.

Table 5.2. Mean distribution of ceramic styles in the architectural areas of the Oroncota Inka complex








Thick Rims




Kallanka (C5,6)

0.5 (2%)

2.5 (10.2%)

21.5 (87.8%)

24.5 (100%)

Ext. North (C-8)

1 (1.4%)

7 (9.6%)

64 (87.7%)

1 (1.4%)

73 (100%)

Residency (C2-3-4)

1.3 (2.9%)

0.7 (1.5%)

0.33 (0.7%)

1 (2.2%)

36.7 (80.3%)

5.7 (12.4%)

45.67 (100%)

Room-1, TK (С12ДЗ)

5.5 (2.5%)

0.5 (0.2%)

209.5 (93.7%)

8 (3.6%)

223.5 (100%)

Room-10 (C-9)

8 (100%)

8 (100%)

Room-9 (C-ll)

8 (80%)

2 (20%)

10 (100%)

Room-16 (C-10)

1 (7.7%)

12 (92.3%)

13 (100%)

Qolqa (C-7)

1 (1.4%)

1 (1.4%)

67 (90.5%)

5 (6.8%)



1.3 (0.3%)

3.2 (0.7%)

17.3 (3.7%)

1.5 (0.3%)

426.7 (90.5%)

21.7 (4.6%)

471.7 (100%)

Note: x2 (35) = 47.12, p = 0.08

Second Occupation: Architectural Renovation

The second episode of occupation in the kallanka (Room-1) involved the construction of a renovation floor. In fact, this new layer of soil extended to other areas of the plaza complex, marking a whole renovation episode. In the case of the excavated kallanka, the renewal floor was intended to cover earlier refuse layers. After that, no episodes of subsequent occupation or reconstruction were identified, signaling the progressive abandonment of the structure.

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