Joyce Marcus


The coast of Peru has been the focus of another University of Michigan project. To address the topic of "community self-sufficiency" versus "community specialization," Dr. Joyce Marcus selected Cerro Azul, a prehispanic coastal site covering 80,000 square meters, for extensive excavation and ongoing analyses. The first volume, Excavations at Cerro Azul, was published in 2008 (Cotsen Institute of Archaeology).

It is generally believed that Peru's early coastal communities were self-sufficient (3000 BC), but by the Inca period (AD 1470–1530), many were specialized. On the coast such specialization included farmers who did not fish and fishermen who did not farm. The question, then, is—When did such specialization arise? Did specialized communities exist before the Inca, or was such specialization imposed by the Inca after AD 1470?

The Kingdom of Huarco, covering about 150 sq km, was one of the coastal polities eventually incorporated into the Inca Empire. That kingdom is located in the lower Cañete Valley, 130 km south of Lima, and surrounded by polities such as Chincha to the south, Mala to the north, and Lunaguaná to the east. Because Lunaguaná lay inland and Huarco was on the coast, the two polities had complementary environmental settings and exchanged several products.

The site of Cerro Azul—lying between the sea cliffs (Cerro Centinela and Cerro del Fraile) and a mountain (Cerro Camacho)—has as its most prominent features 10 buildings made of tapia, thick walls of poured mud that seem to have dried in place between wooden frames. Marcus excavated all of Structure D, a 1640-square-meter tapia compound that was the residence of an elite family and its staff. Divided into at least a dozen rooms and four patios, Structure D included living quarters, a large brewery, multiple storage rooms, unroofed work areas, and a series of doors and corridors that controlled access to the interior of the building. Some of the key data on the brewery were published in the 2009 volume entitled Andean Civilization: A Tribute to Michael E. Moseley (Cotsen Institute of Archaeology) (see Chapter 17).

A significant activity that took place in Structure D was the storage of small fish—mostly sardines and anchovies—in sand-filled rooms. Such fish, if spread out on a pavement of beach cobbles, can dry in a single day. The fish were then stored in layers of sand, which prevented the fish from touching each other, and the hygroscopic properties of the sand furthered the drying process by extracting the remaining moisture.

Marcus' work has shown that Cerro Azul specialized in fishing before the Inca arrived. Evidently noble families, each with its retinue of commoners, lived in tapia compounds surrounded by storage buildings. These families oversaw hundreds of fishermen who procured more anchovies and sardines than the community could use. These surplus fish were temporarily stored in layers in sand-filled rooms and later shipped inland via llama caravans.

Marcus' research at Cerro Azul indicates that economic specialization, at the level of "fishing village" versus "farming village," did exist before the Inca conquest, and that under the aegis of a local hereditary lord, the people of Cerro Azul were part of a larger economic system in which agricultural products and alpaca wool moved to the coast while fish moved inland. (For bibliographic references, see Marcus CV.) 


Dr. Marcus is also working on the rise and fall of ancient Maya dynasties, paying special attention to the politically powerful dynasty at Calakmul in Campeche, Mexico. Her ongoing work is in collaboration with Dr. William J. Folan, Centro de Investigaciones Históricas y Sociales, Universidad Autónoma de Campeche, Mexico. Together, they have focused on the polity and the city, publishing articles on the settlement pattern, roads, buildings, tombs, temples, palaces, and hieroglyphic texts.

As a result of ongoing work, they know Calakmul's domain was on a political par with Tikal's and that the two capitals were rivals, on and off, from AD 500–900. They have learned that noble Calakmul women were married to lords in other cities, sent out to forge political ties. The kingdom of Calakmul, once thought to be a lesser polity, has turned out to be the largest with the most far-flung allies. The founding of the Calakmul dynasty as well as its growth and collapse are ongoing projects. (For more information, see Marcus CV.)

Marcus' most recent studies have focused on prehispanic urbanism. In one volume, entitled The Ancient City (2008, School for Advanced Research Press) and edited with Jeremy A. Sabloff, urban patterns and structures are analyzed for both the Old World and New World. The second study of urbanism, which focuses on Monte Albán, documents the founding of the Zapotec capital, as well as its subsequent rise and fall and its impact on the Valley of Oaxaca and beyond.