Archaeology Magazine Archive

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Beer of Kings Volume 57 Number 6, November/December 2004
by William H. Isbell

Great pots of potent brew marked royal rituals in Peru.

[image] Some jars found at Conchopata may have represented rulers, their necks molded into the shape of human faces, their bodies painted to reflect elite attire. (© Kenneth Garrett) [LARGER IMAGE]

See our November/December 2004 issue for more photographs.

In 1977, construction workers digging a water line at Conchopata, a pre-Inca site in the central highlands of Peru, discovered a pit that contained more than 5,000 sherds of jars, the necks of which were modeled to represent human faces and the bodies painted to reflect the rich attire of elite men. When I returned with a team in 1997, Conchopata had been overrun by modern urban development. Nonetheless, over the following six years, our team was able to expose palaces, tombs, temples, pottery workshops, and plazas. Among the ruins we discovered literally tons of fragments of oversize ceramics stuffed in pits and under floors and piled in rooms and corridors. Some of the jars were up to four feet tall and capable of holding some 30 to 35 gallons. We unearthed the equivalent of hundreds of such offering vessels. The giant wide-mouthed urns are a perfect size for boiling and serving corn beer, or chicha, while the large jars are ideal for fermenting the brew.

William H. Isbell is a professor of archaeology at Binghamton University.

© 2004 by the Archaeological Institute of America