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Huánuco Pampa and the logistics hubs which fed an empire

Published July 25, 2016 by Nick Dall

Secondary Categories: Features, The Great Inca Trail

The road network which linked Cusco and Quito wouldn’t have been possible without the important administrative centers along its length. Huánuco Pampa was one such hub…
Over the last few months we’ve gone into some detail about the Qhapaq Nhan, the mind-blowing Inca road network which spanned a total of 25,000 miles. This month we focus on Huánuco Pampa – one of several major settlements along the road which served as administrative centers. And what better way to introduce the site than with some drone footage?

Location, location, location
Huánuco Pampa is located about 800 miles north of Cusco and 1200 miles south of Quito. It sits atop a plateau with steep ravines on all sides, which makes it very easy to defend. Unlike most other Inca cities, Huánuco Pampa was not turned into a successful colonial city by the conquistadores – which makes it a treasure trove for archaeologists. The closest major town is Huaraz, about 90 miles away, so those who make the trek are usually rewarded with having the incredible ruins all to themselves.
Life’s work Esteemed archaeologist Dr Craig Morris, who dedicated over 40 years of his life to studying the site at Huánuco Pampa, has given us an incredible insight into life in Huánuco Pampa. When the Incas established control over the region they built Huánuco Pampa from scratch, rather than improving upon a local settlement.
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As Morris has noted, “Huánuco Pampa did not arise because of an important concentration of natural resources or because of a propitious position as a center of inter-regional exchange. It appears rather to have been a link in an elaborate network of communication, transportation and administration which was established to bind together the state’s authority structure centered in Cusco and the numerous ethnic groups it sought to control in the provinces. It supported military and political objectives and helped channel goods and services to the state.”
The city was built around a vast plaza measuring 1800ft by 1150ft – an area of 19ha or almost 30 city blocks! In the center of the plaza was the ushnu, a solid platform used for ceremonial functions. To the east of the plaza was the Casa del Inca – the home of the governing elite – which was accessed via impressive gates. The interior of the Casa del Inca was made up of fifteen structures, including houses, baths terraces, sunken gardens and pools, built around a central courtyard.
Most of the city’s residents were members of the local population forced to live and work in Huánuco Pampa. Their homes can be found in the north, west and south barrios. The layout of these homes ranges from extremely well-organized to rather haphazard, but the buildings are notable for the fact that they are almost all built in the style of Inca architecture – only a handful of the circular houses favoured by local peoples have been found on the outskirts of the city, and of 10,000 pottery sherds collected by Morris only five were in the style of the locals!
Huanuco Pampa
Walmart, Inca style
One of Huánuco Pampa’s most important roles was that of storage depot. The city had no fewer than 497 storehouses and 30 processing buildings, located on a hill to the south-west of the city. The majority of the qollqas or storehouses were used for the long-term storage of food stuffs and other goods in purpose built facilities. Different crops were stored in different ways. For example maize was stored shelled, in large jars which were put in circular storehouses with stone floors, while root crops were placed in the middle of layers of straw, bound into bales with rope and stored in rectangular structures. Higland root crops occupied between 50 and 80% of the storage facilities, while maize comprised less than7%.
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These vast storage facilities allowed the Incas to horde during times of plenty, and live off the supplies during times of famine. The storehouses enabled the ongoing prosperity of a city which was located in a marginal agricultural zone (much of the produce was grown at lower altitudes), and in so doing ensured that the Qhapaq Nhan was able to operate smoothly.
Just one piece of the puzzle
Huánuco Pampa was one of several administrative centers along the Qhapaq Nhan. I will once again rely on Dr Craig Morris to explain further:
“Along the road between the administrative centers are smaller tampu or way stations a day’s journey apart. Although they vary in detail the administrative centers have much in common in overall plan. Usually present is a large plaza flanked by buildings, some of which may be quite long. A small platform or ushnu is usually in the center of the plaza. Present also are storage facilities, usually on the hillside above the site. Residential zones vary in organization and placement, but it is usually possible to distinguish at least one zone of elite residence. The tampu between the administrative centers are in some ways like miniature versions of the larger sites.”
UntitledAs Morris' oeuvre demonstrates, there was nothing accidental or fortuitous about the incredible success of the Inca empire. It could all be attributed to planning, organization and hard work.
Read on
If this blog has piqued your interest you can read more by and about Dr Craig Morris' incredible service to the study of Huánuco Pampa in particular and the Incas in general here, here and here.
Credit to M Salomon for the cover image of this post; the Peruvian Ministry of Culture for the video; and Dr E.C. Morris for the maps and the black and white expedition photo.