Location: Peru, north of Lima
Researcher: Johanna Spjuth
Year: 2014
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The Great Wall of Peru was first photographed and described by the Shippee-Johnson expedition (Shippee, 1932). The Shippee-Johnson expedition followed the wall for approximately 40 miles from an airplane and then a couple of miles on ground. Although the pictures are intriguing further examinations of the wall has been scarce and there is a need for mapping of the wall. In my project, the aim was to find the wall on aerial photos and map it. I also wanted to identify the people on either side of the wall to see when it was in use, and by whom. To achieve this I set up three research questions: What is the Great Wall of Peru? What is the relation between the Great Wall and the landscape? What is the function of the Great Wall?

The Great Wall is located in the northern part of Peru, as can be seen on picture 1. It follows the River Santa, from the coast to the mountains. As can be seen on picture 1 and 3, it is located close to the historical capitals Chanchan (of the Chimu Empire) and Chavin de Huantar (of the Chavin Empire). The region is very mountainous and the wall is located on the hillsides of the valley (the steep mountains can be seen in picture 2).

The Santa River also marks the end of the Santa valley, and as can be seen on picture 3 the valleys are very important to the people living on the coast in northern Peru, as they are what transforms the dessert areas of Peru’s northern coast and makes it into habitable land.

The Shippee-Johnson expedition estimated that the wall in its original form had been 12-15 feet thick and 12-15 feet high, although they say that at their visit it was at average only 7 feet high, but in some places as high as 20 feet. The Shippee-Johnson expedition describes the wall as made out of broken rocks and adobe cement and writes that is was very smooth in the places where the surface was still intact. Two of the pictures taken by the Shippee-Johnson expedition has been included here (see picture 4 and 5).

The Shippee-Johnson expedition states “Clearly the wall with its double line of forts was erected as a defensive barrier” (Shippee, 1932, p. 10). They cite several scholars of the time that have different suggestions as to who built the wall and why, though none can actually rely on facts, as the expedition was not able to determine the time period when the wall was built (Shippee, 1932, p. 10-11). The main theory of the time seems to have been that the wall was built by the Chimu as one of many defense lines against the Incas. They write that this would explain why the Incas (“according to tradition”) abandoned his invasions from the south and instead conquered the Chimu kingdom for the Andes. Another suggestions brought up in the Shippe-Johnson paper is that the wall was built by Chimu during their expansion south, at a temporary border. The third theory mentioned in the paper says that the wall was used as defense by Chimu or pre-Chimu settlements to protect the river, their water supply, from the north. In the paper this is supported by the tradition saying the Chimu were conquered by the Inca cutting off their water supply. The Santa River is also the source of water that is led into the Santa valley through extensive aqueducts according to Shippee.

The photographs taken by the Shippee-Johnson expedition was the only thing that other experts had to rely on when dating the wall and giving it a special function. It is mentioned in Proulx (p.18) that when the famous Peruvian archeologist, dr Tello, visited the wall two years later (1934) he said the wall was probably built by the Mochica (Moche) in the middle strata.

After these two accounts of the wall little has been written about it. Eventually I found a thesis be Brown Vega from 2008, containing information that was not in any of these early papers. Brown Vega (2008, p. 241) writes that the wall is from the late early horizon period (Early horizon: ca 900-200 B.C.) and therefore attributes it to the period of Chavin fall or the period after the Chavin had already fallen. In this paper the main theory seems to be that the wall was used for defense.

In my research of the timeframes of different cultures of the north coast of Peru I’ve found many differences in the years noted for the different cultures. In this I’ve mostly trusted the maps and charts in Mackey and Klymyshyn(1990, p. 195-226) and Topic (1990, p. 177-194), but also used Masterson (2009, p. 23-47) to confirm some dates. Looking at the timeline I’ve constructed (see picture 6) it seems that if the wall was used as defense it would have been built by the Moschika (Moche) or the Chimu people. This is the timeframe when the Santa River was marking a border of a country. Brown Vega (2008) seems to disagree though, since she has connected the wall with several other walls in the area and come to the conclusion that it is probably from the Chavin period. I would argue that when looking at the relation between the Great Wall and the capital of the Chavin Empire (as seen in picture 1 and 3) that the wall was indeed built during this period, and probably was used as one of many interior walls constructed to make it difficult to invade the Empire, but I also see the possibility of another use of the wall. That it connects the capital of a great empire with the sea and the lower parts of the Empire, could imply that the wall was also used for transportation. The position of the wall does not seem to be ultimate for protection, but seems rather to focus on building a straight, fast line that defies the difficult terrain. Travelling in the Andes would not have been an easy task, but would have been made easier with an elevated path built by humans, much like the Inca roads that were to be built 2000 years later.

Data Evaluation
It was not easy to find information on the wall. There seems to have been some later research that was hard to access. Even with the breakthrough of finding the Brown Vega thesis from 2008 it seems like there is not much research done, and that there are still many pieces missing. I leave off on this project feeling that there are a lot more to explore, not the least mapping the whole extension of the wall. In my project I’ve located the first part (closest to the sea) but if a mapping of the whole extension could be performed that could strengthen my theory of the wall being used primarily for transportation. In my mapping I’ve used the basemap of the ArcGIS software but as the ortho photos of the inner areas of Peru are not of a good enough resolution to follow the wall all the way other GIS data would be needed to continue the work. The extent of my mapping can be seen in pictures 7 and 8.

Works Cited
Brown Vega, Margaret Yvette. 2008. War and social life in prehispanic Perú: ritual, defense, and communities at the fortress of Acaray, Huaura Valley. Dissertation Abstracts International. 69-11. Thesis (Ph.D.) - University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2008.

Topic, Theresa Lange. 1990. “Territorial Expansion and the Kingdom of Chimor” in The Northen Dynasties: Kinship and Statecraft in Chimor. Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks Reasearch Library and Collection. 177-194.

Mackey, Carol J. and Klymyshyn, A. M. Ulana. 1990. “The Southern Frontier of the Chimu Empire” in The Northen Dynasties: Kinship and Statecraft in Chimor. Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks Reasearch Library and Collection. 195-226.

Masterson, Daniel. 2009. “Empires of the Andes” in The History of Peru. Westport: Greenwood Publishing. 23-47.

Proulx, Donald A. In Search of the Great Wall of Peru. Available online [2014-12-08]:

Shippee, Robert. 1932. The "Great Wall of Peru" and Other Aerial Photographic Studies by the Shippee-Johnson Peruvian Expedition in Geographical Review, Vol. 22, No. 1 (Jan., 1932), pp. 1-29