Studying ushnus

Project team

  • Nick Branch, Senior Lecturer in Palaeoecology, School of Human and Environmental Sciences, University of Reading (01/01/2007 - 26/02/2010) 
  • Francisco Ferreira, PhD student, Department of Geography, Royal Holloway
    University of London (01/01/2007 - 01/01/2010)
  • Millena Frouin, Post doctoral research assistant, Department of Geography,
    Royal Holloway University of London (19/03/2007 - 28/02/2009)
  • Rob Kemp, Professor, Physical Geography, Department of Geography,
    Royal Holloway University of London (01/01/2007 - 26/02/2010)
  • Colin McEwan, Head of the Americas section and curator of Latin American collections, Department of Africa, Oceania and the Americas, British Museum, London (01/01/2007 - 26/02/2010)
  • Frank Meddens, Honorary Research Associate, Department of Geography,
    Royal Holloway University of London (01/01/2007 - 26/02/2010)
  • Gabriel Ramon, Post-doctoral research assistant, British Museum, London
    (01/04/2008 - 26/02/2010)
  • Cirilo Vivanco, Professor of Archaeology, National University of San Cristóbal of Huamanga, Peru
  • Katie Willis, Reader, Development Geography, Department of Geography,
    Royal Holloway University of London (01/01/2007 - 26/02/2010)


  • University of Reading
  • Royal Holloway University of London
  • Universidad Nacional de San Cristobal de Huamanga

Supported by

Arts and Humanities Research Council
  • Arts and Humanities Research Council

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Studying Inca ushnus

The project team has used a range of scientific and historical techniques to examine ushnu landscape and environment.

Methods from the fields of archaeology, geoarchaeology, cultural geography were used, while examination of the British Museum collection helped further understanding. This has been complemented with ethnohistorical and ethnographic research, which reveals the cultural meanings placed on ushnus and mountain peaks visible from them.

The project team studied 30 ushnus over a series of field seasons in 1999, 2003, 2007 and 2008. All sites are located in the Ayacucho and southern Huancavelica regions of modern Peru, within 260 km2 of each other.

The findings have proved to be of great academic importance and were first discussed in public at a conference in Lima, Peru in 2008. A forthcoming conference in London (November 2010 at the British Museum) will feature a number of leading international specialists,  and the resulting collected papers will be published in what promises to be a landmark volume.

Research methods


measuring tape and rocks

As well as unearthing artefacts, the team discovered that the way ushnus were built and their location was significant

More about Archaeology 


Peruvian village meeting

Peruvians who live near the ushnus today were interviewed to get first-hand evidence of what the platforms mean today

More about Ethnography 


seated man playing drum

Historical accounts show how ushnus were used for performance, so the soundscape was tested.

More about Ethnohistory 


studying soil on an ushnu

Soil from different locations was used to fill the ushnus which the Inca believed created a sacred bond between one location and the other

More about Geoarchaeology 

Landscape analysis

team carrying out landscape analysis

Researchers used a geographical information system (GIS) to help with their landscape analysis - what could be seen from the ushnu was significant

More about landscape 

In the Museum

gold llama statuette

The British Museum holds one of the most significant Inca collections outside Peru and the project has shed new light on it

In the Museum