Landscape analysis

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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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.

surveying an ushnu

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.

Explore the view from the platform at Incapirca Waminan  

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.

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.