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Kotosh, an archaeological site in the Huallaga drainage of highland Peru. Known for its monumental architecture, Kotosh was built during the third millennium bce, centuries before the introduction of ceramics. It is located in a rain shadow along the eastern slopes of the Andes at 6,600 feet above sea level. It is dominated by two mounds, the larger of which reached a height of 45 feet. Excavations showed that the featureless mounds were eroded terraced pyramid-platforms and that their impressive scale was the end product of centuries of intentional filling and renovation, a process sometimes called "ritual entombment." The core of the mounds contains a sequence of similar public structures superimposed one on top of the other.

The most important of these buildings are small stone chambers with a square ground plan and a central subfloor firepit attached to subterranean flues. The structures often feature a distinctive two-level floor in which a recessed zone surrounds the central stone-lined hearth. The exterior and interior walls of these chambers were plastered with light clay, and in some cases the entryway was painted red. These buildings are generally interpreted as chambers designed for rituals involving burnt offerings.

The best known of the Kotosh buildings, the Temple of the Crossed Hands, has two clay friezes flanking the main axis of the building: the eastern one depicts a small set of hands with the left arm overlapping the right, while the western one shows a similar but slightly larger set with the right arm on top of the left. These images constitute one of the oldest known examples of public art in the Americas, and they may symbolize dual opposition, a principle fundamental to later Andean ideology.

Preceramic structures similar to those at Kotosh have been found at other sites, including Shillacoto in Huánuco, Huaricoto in the Callejón de Huaylas, and La Galgada in the Tablachaca drainage. These structures probably housed comparable ceremonies, and the groups responsible for them are thought to have shared a similar belief system, sometimes referred to as the Kotosh Religious Tradition.

Following the Preceramic occupation (known as the Mito phase), Kotosh continued to be occupied during the second millennium bce by farmers who supplemented their diet with hunted game, especially deer. These groups produced elaborate ceramic assemblages known as the Kotosh Waira-jirca and Kotosh Kotosh styles; the form and decoration of this pottery display link to styles of the tropical forest, highlands, and coast. This pottery and occasional exotic imports from the eastern lowlands constitute evidence of the role that Amazonian cultures played in the development of early Andean civilization. During the first millennium bce Kotosh developed strong ties to Chavín de Huántar, and the local population participated in the Chavín sphere of interaction.

See alsoChavín de Huántar .


A synthesis of Kotosh and the Kotosh religious tradition is presented in Richard L. Burger, Chavín and the Origins of Andean Civilization (1992). The University of Tokyo excavations at the site were published in Seiichi Izumi and T. Sono, Andes 2: Excavations at Kotosh, Peru, 1960 (1963), and S. Izumi and Kazuo Terada, Andes 4: Excavations at Kotosh, Peru, 1963 and 1966 (1972). Seiichi Izumi discussed the implications of Kotosh investigations in "The Development of the Formative Culture in the Ceja de Montaña" in Dumbarton Oaks Conference on Chavin, edited by Elizabeth Benson (1971).

Additional Bibliography

Schjellerup, Inge. Los valles olvidados: Pasado y presente en la utilización de recursos en la Ceja de Selva, Perú/The Forgotten Valleys: Past and Present in the Utilization of Resources in the Ceja de Selva, Peru. Copenhagen: National Museum of Denmark, 2003.

Stone-Miller, Rebecca. Art of the Andes: From Chavín to Inca. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1996.

Von Hagen, Adriana, and Craig Morris. The Cities of the Ancient Andes. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1998.

                                        Richard L. Burger