Archaeology | Ethnography | Ethnohistory | Geoarchaeology | In the Museum | Landscape analysis


By studying original manuscripts and other source material it is possible to get a sense of how ushnus were used and why they were built. The project used this research to explore and understand the remains of ushnus that we can see today.

Sources indicate that ushnu platforms were used in a form of ‘performance theatre’ which included several forms of communication, from visual movement and dance to speech, song and music. To understand how this worked, each ushnu investigated was tested using the human voice, a drum, and an Andean shell trumpet known as a pututu.


The team established that for a sound source to be heard, it needed to be positioned on the 'front' edge of the platform facing the audience, rather than the centre. Furthermore, it quickly became apparent that audibility was reduced significantly due to wind level increasing during the afternoon. It is likely therefore that the sites would have been effective for projecting speech and music in the morning only.

The site of Uscunta stands out from the results and its two platforms are in an unmistakably different configuration than those of the isolated high mountain-top structures. The distinctive sound of the shell trumpet, in particular, was very effective, and proved audible at distances of over 500 metres.

These acoustic aspects, as well as the presence of a number of great Inca halls or kallankas, make it likely therefore that the great pampa at Uscunta was used for celebrations involving many people, probably in two separate groups at particular times of the year, when a pilgrimage would gather them at the site to dance and sing and mark the festival of the sun for the occasion.

Soil and stone

Ethnohistoric research also indicates that soil and stone carried significant symbolic meaning which was appropriated and co-opted by the Inca state in legitimising its power base over subject territories. Soil, aggregate and stone was moved to symbolically empower local elites for their support of the state.

These materials had their own sacred powers as well as a fertilising and creative framework in which it was part of the productive process needed to feed the populace.

Its movement, control and placement by the worldly elite and subject people as well as the gods themselves served to legitimise, support, bless or punish those who so deserved.


What is ethnohistory?

Ethnohistory is the study of non-Western or native peoples that often relies on ancient personal accounts and written materials in addition to scientific data to discover more about how an indigenous population evolved in terms of culture and customs.

Ethnohistorians make use of books and manuscripts, as well as source material such as maps, music, paintings, photography and museum collections.

Image captions:


1-5. Testing the soundscape from within and on top of ushnu platforms