Collection Description

Tradition Name


Tradition Description

The Chimu tradition lasted from 1000–480 BP (AD 900–1520), the last fifty years under Inka domination, and was located along the northern coast of Peru from the Piura to the Huarmey valleys and inland to the Andean piedmont, with its heartland and principal city of Chan Chan in the Moche Valley. Chimu was a state society, probably with a dualistic political system, and a rigid class system. Late in the tradition it became a militaristic expansionist state, although most settlements are not defensively located and there are few forts. Settlements range from cities with populations of 40,000–60,000 down to rural hamlets. The subsistence economy was based on irrigation agriculture and fishing. There were full-time specialists, some attached to royal or noble households. The power base of the elites seems to have depended on craft production. The Chimu were master metallurgists, but few examples survive due to tribute exacted during the Inka and Spanish conquests.


Select the Tradition Summary link above for a longer description of the culture.


South America --Central Andes



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Collection Overview

Documents referred to in this section are included in the eHRAF Archaeology collection and are referenced by author, date of publication, and title where necessary.

The Chimu tradition is located along the desert coast of Peru from the Tumbes Valley in the north to the Huarmey Valley in the south. It occurred from 1100–480 BP. Over a third of the documents focus on the Chimu core area in the Moche Valley; ten of those on the urban and political center, the site of Chan Chan. Nevertheless, there is good coverage across the full extent of imperial expansion, particularly the Casma Valley to the south and the Lambayeque Valley in the north, following traces even farther north to Piura. Chimu inherited and expanded on the North Coast cultural dominance of its Moche and Sican predecessors, and a number of documents examine continuities from the preceding period, including possible Huari influences. Aspects of Chimu culture persisted under Inka and early Spanish colonial domination, resulting in written records, and nearly a quarter of the documents consider how these can shed light on the archaeological record.

Two documents provide overviews of the tradition: Shimada (1990), and Moore (1985). Shimada examines the diachronic changes that occurred in the Lambayeque region during the Sican to Chimu time periods from AD 700-1350. Moore excavated a lower class neighborhood at the site of Manchan in the Casma Valley for a dissertation in which he provides background data and summarizes the Chimu tradition. He was interested in how the political/state economy may have modified lower class household economies. Moseley (2010, "Introduction"; references in Moseley and Day, 2010) outlines his speculative model for economic and political development for the north coast of Peru, examining the time depth of various Chimu traits.

Several other authors write about their field work. Conrad (1977) writes about Chiquitoy Viejo, an Incan administrative center built to supervise tribute sent to Cuzco, documenting some of the changes that occurred to the Chimu after the Incan conquest. Keatinge (1975) writes about Cerro la Virgen, a rural village near Chan Chan. Pozorski (2010; references in Moseley and Day 2010, "References") compares subsistence patterns at Chan Chan with other sites in the Moche Valley. Keatinge (2010; references in Moseley and Day, 2010), working with students in the Jeqeutepeque Valley, surveyed and mapped the administrative center of Farfán and the probable religious site of Pacatnamú. Bawden (2010; references in Moseley and Day, 2010) discusses the various innovative architectural and settlement features first seen at the late Moche site of Galindo that later appear at Chan Chan. Richardson et al. (1990) mainly use survey data in the far north of Peru to describe the "cultural distinctiveness of the region" and the cultural contact between Peru and Ecuador.

Numerous authors explore and analyze the city of Chan Chan. Kolata’s dissertation (1978) provides a relative chronology based on adobe brick dimensions. All subsequent authors have used this relative chronology when discussing the city. He discusses how the city’s urban ecology changed through time. Moore (1992) uses graph theory in developing the hypothesis that U-shaped rooms or audiencias controlled access to storage rooms. Moseley and Deeds (2010, "The land in front of Chan Chan"; references in Moseley and Day, 2010) describes the canals around Chan Chan in the Moche Valley starting with the Initial Period, around 3400 BP. Day (2010, "Ciudadelas"; references in Moseley and Day, 2010) describes the cuidadelas and their interior layout within the city of Chan Chan. Kolata (2010; references in Moseley and Day, 2010) presents his construction sequence for the city and proposes it mirrors the rise and fall of the Chimu empire. Conrad (2010; references in Moseley and Day, 2010) describes the burial platforms within the cuidadelas as a start to understanding imperial mortuary practices. Klymyshyn (2010; references in Moseley and Day, 2010) describes and analyses elites, and explores rigid Chimu social organization. John Topic (2010; references in Moseley and Day, 2010) believes understanding the urban lower class is key to understanding preindustrial cities and he presents data concerning the lower class in Chan Chan. Day (2010, "Storage and labor service"; references in Moseley and Day, 2010) "…suggest[s] that certain architectural structures and construction techniques at Pampa Grande and Chan Chan provide the archaeological evidence for storage facilities and labor service similar to those employed by the Inca" (p. 333). Kolata (1990) examines the urban architecture and the forces behind changes in that architecture. John Topic (1990) discusses craft production and the craft specialists in the city, comparing them with what was found in the provincial centers. Klymyshyn (1987; references in Haas and Pozorski, 1987) examines architectural remains within the city to explore how they may reflect administrative organization and the changes that occurred with the expansion of the Chimu empire.

Other authors are interested in intra-cultural differences and in comparing the archaeological data found throughout the Chimu territory. Theresa Topic (2010; references in Moseley and Day, 2010) focuses on the Early Intermediate Period in the Chicama, Moche, and Virú Valleys to explore political continuities and discontinuities between the Moche and Chimu traditions. Mackey (2010; references in Moseley and Day, 2010) explores the archaeological evidence for possible Huari (Wari) influence on the Moche and Chimu traditions, with which Huari was partially contemporaneous. Conklin (1990) examines Chimu architecture through the images left behind in ceramics and textiles, comparing it with existing architecture on the ground. McClelland (1990) uses iconographic analysis to examine art and mythology in the Moche to Chimu transition. Mackey and Klymyshyn (1990) did fieldwork in Casma Valley; the data are used to present evidence on the Chimu empire’s expansion to the south of the Santa Valley. Donnan (1990, "The Chotuna Friezes…") compares similar friezes found in the Lambayeque and the Moche valleys. Pozorski (1987; references in Haas and Pozorski, 1987) examines the role of irrigation canals in the expansion of the Chimu state. He bases his research on the canal systems of the Chicama and Moche valleys and of their associated structures. Mackey (1987; references in Haas and Pozorski, 1987) examines Chimu expansion, provincial settlements, and the amount of political control the Chimu exerted over their territories.

Ethnohistoric sources and traditional histories were the basis of research in several documents. Moseley (1990) provides the overview for papers examining the ways combined archaeological and ethnohistoric data may shed light on the Chimu state. Theresa Topic (1990) compares ethnohistoric data with archaeological surveys of the fortifications in several valleys. Conrad (1990) explores the traditional history and the archaeological evidence pertaining to General Pacatnamu and his provincial capital. Donnan (1990, "An Assessment…") excavated at the sites of Chotuna and Chornancap in the Lambayeque Valley, assessing the degree to which the archaeological data corroborates the traditional history of the Naymlap dynasty. Cordy-Collins (1990) focuses on a courtier in the Naymlap legend named Fonga Sigde, and on his office. Rostworowski de Diez Canseco (1990) explores some facets of government in the Chimu tradition through an examination of early Colonial documents, especially court cases. In an historiographic analysis of oral histories, Netherly (1990) reveals that the authors’ intent was to define the political and social order, not to factually record historic events. Zuidema (1990) examines five dynastic genealogies recorded by the Spanish before 1622, the myth of Naymlap, and the myth of Taycanamo (the traditional first ruler of the Chimu), proposing that the myths may reflect political organization at the time of the Spanish Conquest rather than pre-Chimu political organization. Ramírez (1990) uses historic documents and oral histories from the sixteenth century to extrapolate what impact the Inka had on the Chimu.

For further information on individual works in this collection, see the abstracts in the citations preceding each document.

Overview by

Sarah Berry

Agricultural fertility – use TILLAGE (241)

Alæc – local leader; hereditary "feudal" lord in the Muchik language – use COMMUNITY HEADS (622)

Alæc pong – " cacique stones" – sacred stones – use SACRED OBJECTS AND PLACES (778)

Alfrecho – charred maize kernels and hulls, dregs from making chicha (beer) – use ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGES (273)

Altiplano – high plateau or plains – use TOPOGRAPHY AND GEOLOGY (133)

Apisonado – a type of floor of tamped or rammed earth – use ARCHITECTURE (341)


Audiencia – U-shaped structure, probably used mainly for administrative purposes – use PUBLIC STRUCTURES (344)

Batánes – millingstones, grinding stones or mortars, typically used with an uña (pounding stone or pestle) for food, or with a chungo for crushing items like rock – use GENERAL TOOLS (412)

Bofedales – wetlands – use TOPOGRAPHY AND GEOLOGY (133)

Caballitos – watercraft made of reeds – use BOATS (501)

Cacicazgo – polity ruled by a local leader or chief (also see " Alæc ") – use TERRITORIAL HIERARCHY (631)


Cacique stones

Cántaros – cooking pots – use UTENSILS (415)

Cercaduras – walled enclosures or compounds containing rooms and interior benches, assumed to be elite residences; earlier than but similar to ciudadelas – use PUBLIC STRUCTURES (344)

Chala – the coastal desert zone of Peru from sea level to an elevation of around 500 meters – use TOPOGRAPHY AND GEOLOGY (133)

Chala fill – mound construction fill composed primarily of corn husks – use STRUCTURES (340)

Chungo – hand-held utensil for grinding food in concert with a batán , also for crushing items like rock – use GENERAL TOOLS (412)

Chuspas – bags – use UTENSILS (415)

Comunidades – units of territory and local administration – use TERRITORIAL HIERARCHY (631)

Corporate authority – use COMMUNITY HEADS (622)

Corporate group (in general) – use SOCIAL RELATIONSHIPS AND GROUPS (571)

Corporate labor – use LABOR RELATIONS (466)

Feasts and dances, state-sponsored – use MISCELLANEOUS GOVERNMENT ACTIVITIES (659)


Huacas – spiritual points of reference, places or things embodying supernatural beings or forces – use SACRED OBJECTS AND PLACES (778)

Huaqueros – grave robbers, site looters – use POST DEPOSITIONAL PROCESSES IN ARCHAEOLOGICAL SITES (138)

Jora – malted maize used for making chicha (beer) – use ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGES (273)

Kancha – a central courtyard with three or more buildings enclosing it – use GROUNDS (351)

Mahamaes – large, sunken gardens – use TILLAGE (241)

Malleros – net spacers; flat, rectangular objects of bone, stone, or wood for creating fishing nets with a consistent mesh size – use FISHING GEAR (227)

MEC (Maximum Elevation Canals) – use WATER SUPPLY (312)

Milling stones

Mit'a, mita – a form of labor service or labor taxation – use LABOR RELATIONS (466)

Monumental architecture – use PUBLIC STRUCTURES (344)

Non-domestic architecture – use PUBLIC STRUCTURES (344)

Pachamanca – method of cooking or baking with hot stones – use FOOD PREPARATION (252)

Paræng – vassal or subject – use CLASSES (565)

Prill – small aggregate or pellet of copper – use METALLURGY (325)

Punzónes – bone awls used as weaving implements – use GENERAL TOOLS (412)

Quebradas – ravines, gullies, dry washes – use TOPOGRAPHY AND GEOLOGY (133)

Quincha – wattle and daub construction – use MASONRY (333)

Redistribution, state-managed – use PUBLIC FINANCE (652)

Religious vs. secular – use GENERAL CHARACTER OF RELIGION (771)


Shicras – mesh sacks made of plant fibers – use UTENSILS (415)

Tampu – Inka way-station – use TRAVEL SERVICES (485)

Tapia – tamped or rammed earth, sometimes a mix of pebbles, sand and clay – use MASONRY (333)

Tillandsia – plant burned as fuel – use FIRE (372)

Tinajas – storage pots – use UTENSILS (415)

Tumbaga – copper-gold alloy – use NONFERROUS METAL INDUSTRIES (328)

U-shaped room (U-shaped structure)

Vertical archipelago



Yaná ( yanacona , yanakuna )

Yunga – transitional biozone between the Andean highlands and the eastern forests – use TOPOGRAPHY AND GEOLOGY (133)

Indexing Notes by

Sarah Berry

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