Huarpa Culture: History, Features and Decline

The huarpa culture was a pre-Inca civilization that inhabited in some regions of what conforms the State of Peru, specifically areas within the now called Department of Ayacucho, place in which the greatest amount of vestiges of this culture has been found.

The name of this civilization comes from the river Huarpa, near which developed this society.


It is estimated that the Huarpa civilization lived between 200 and 550 AD, when it began its decline and eventual disappearance.

Research around this culture is linked to a later culture: the Huari civilization. The relationship lies in the common territories they both inhabited, and in the common qualities of their creations and vestiges.

One of the most important vestiges of Huarpa culture for its historical research and analysis has been pieces of decorated and painted ceramics, which have made it possible to recognize the settlements as where they are located as huarpa villages, and from there to delve into other characteristic elements .

One of the greatest researchers of the huarpa culture has been the anthropologist and archaeologist Luis Lumbreras, who has been in charge of glimpsing many more details of the unknown Huarpa culture, as well as its relation with the later Huari civilization.

Characteristics of huarpa culture

Little is known about the Huarpa culture. Their legacy, added to their living conditions, has not been as visible or important in comparison to other Peruvian civilizations as the Nazca was, for example.

Due to the geographical characteristics of their environment, they had to face great natural difficulties, allowing them to develop systems to guarantee their livelihood.

Because they settled in the Andean highlands, the Huarpa culture had to contrive to develop irrigation systems that would overcome soil resistance and surface irregularities. These systems operated through platforms that accumulated water and redistributed it.

These engineering systems have been considered similar to those that other cultures have implemented in other geographically rugged regions of the Peruvian nation.

Despite the difficulties, the huarpa civilization managed to guarantee its existence for at least three centuries, based on its agricultural and irrigation systems.

The Huarpa civilization is not considered by the researchers as a society of a military character; their relations with other cultures were imitated to the commercial and cultural exchange, and few records show if they came to have a violent behavior against contemporary civilizations with them.

Ñawinpukyo, archaeological capital huarpa

The hill of Ñawinpukyo is the archaeological site that more vestiges has thrown about the huarpa culture, as well as of the later civilizations.

Located in the Huarpa river basin, Ñawinpukyo is still today a capital of aqrqueological remains that, although damaged and displaced by natural phenomena over the years, continues to provide enough evidence to continue investigations.

For the Huarpa civilization, and for others who inhabited the Ayacucho Valley long before the appearance of the Incas, a place like Ñawinpukyo served as one of the earliest examples of veneration to mountain deities, through ceremonies, rituals and fabricated ornaments.

From this arises the importance, not only archeological at present, but cosmological and spiritual at that time.

In spite of the damages that the vestiges of the pre-Inca cultures have received in places like Ñawinpukyo, and of its displacements by currents and precipitations, its collection has been able to evidence the influence of the huarpa culture in later societies.

Ceramics huarpa

The main vestiges and manifestations of the Huarpa culture have been found mainly in pigmented and ornate ceramics, which have allowed us to provide clues about the daily life of settlements, their religious traditions, and their relationships and contacts with other cultures.

It is said that the presence of certain specific pigments in some pieces of Huarpa ceramic are the result of interaction and exchange with other cultures belonging to the region of Ica.

It is estimated that they had such influential relationships that they would end up absorbing the huarpa culture a lot, being a factor of their disappearance.

The development of the huarpa culture is equally evident in the evolution of engraving techniques on its ceramics.

The boom and presence of the polychromy in its pieces allowed to deduce its level of development until that moment, in which the relations and commercial exchanges were more fruitful, allowing the access to new pigments.

Decline of huarpa culture

The end of the culture huarpa is attributed mainly to intense climatic changes that drastically modified the habits of life and sustenance that the civilization huarpa maintained for years.

Although the natural processes are slow, the increase of its intensity was such that society could not counteract them, leading to the desertion of settlements.

Researchers have found other reasons than weather to clarify the disappearance of the huarpa culture:

  • The increasingly intense contact with societies of greater influence on the Ica-Nasca coast, or with the Tiahuanaco culture
  • The unstoppable population growth, which together with the displacements and changes of location, segmented the integrity.

Added to this, the overexploitation of land, which was difficult, led to the abandonment of the agricultural activities of Huarpa society.

The sum of all these factors not only put an end to the Huarpa culture, but also served as a trigger to initiate the Huari culture, which would inhabit the same regions for at least three centuries.

The disappearance of the Huarpa culture is added to the list of civilizations that inhabited different regions of Peru, and began to lay the cultural, military, commercial, religious and even engineering bases for what would be the birth of the Inca civilization, a of the most representative of the history of Peru.

Like the Huarpa culture, almost all indigenous societies had to face great natural difficulties in the sierras and valleys of Peru.


  1. Carré, J.E. (s.f.). EXPLORATIONS IN ÑAWINPUKIO, AYACUCHO. Archeology and Society , 47-67.
  2. Leoni, J.B. (2000). Reinvestiging Ñawinpukyo: New contributions to the study of huarpa culture and the early intermediate period in the Ayacucho Valley. Archeology Newsletter , 631-640.
  4. Ossio, J.M. (1995). The Indians of Peru. Quito: Ediciones MAPFRE.
  5. Valdez, L. M., & Vivanco, C. (1994). Archeology of the Qaracha Basin, Ayacucho, Peru. Society for American Archeology , 144-157.

Loading ..

Recent Posts

Loading ..