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

Landscape analysis

The Incas positioned each new Ushnu at significant boundaries and on the margins of their expanding empire, to effectively define and proclaim their growing imperial hegemony.

The researchers used a geographical information system (GIS) to help with their landscape analysis. Analysis showed the platforms generally command prominent views of the surrounding landscape, in particular clear visibility of the snow-clad peaks worshipped as mountain dieties.

The location of the ushnu in relation to its surroundings was highly significant. It was not where the ushnu could be seen from but what could be seen from the ushnu that was important. The Incas would stand on the platform to proclaim their territories - what they could see was theirs.

The research used novel approaches to analysing Inca landscape visibility from each ushnu location, incorporating viewshed (individual and shared), and intervisibility and proximity analyses. Analysis of shared viewsheds highlighted three important areas that are visible from seven-13 ushnus.

In two areas, the project team recorded important Inca mountain deities according to ethnohistorical sources. This suggests that from a significant number of ushnu platforms, known deities were visible, and that deities not previously recorded probably exist in some areas not yet studied.

Chemical and structural analysis of the fills (material found inside the ushnus structures), revealed for the first time that some ushnus are built with alternating ‘couplets’ of topsoil and subsoil deliberately brought in from other locations, thus giving physical expression to the intimate connection between the ushnu, the surrounding agricultural landscape and the local populace who worked there.

Ushnu locations - GIS 
(pdf 2.7mb)
Ushnu viewshed analysis 
(pdf 2.8mb)
Soundscape analysis 
(pdf 1.6mb)

What is landscape analysis?

One means of studying landscape is to use a geographic information system (GIS), which aims to capture, analyze and present data linked to location.

This is essentially the combining of maps and database technology so that researchers can use data to examine the significance of place. GIS systems are used in mapping, land survey, geography, urban-planning and navigation.