Chan Chan: Andean Alternative of the Preindustrial City

See allHide authors and affiliations

Science  24 Jan 1975:
Vol. 187, Issue 4173, pp. 219-225
DOI: 10.1126/science.187.4173.219


I have discussed Chan Chan in terms of its political and economic characteristics because state organization had a pervasive impact on the growth and structure of the settlement. In this sense the capital of Chimor resembles Cuzco the Inca capital (1). Both metropolitan centers served as seats of Andean empires governed by noble classes headed by members of royal dynasties. Each state relied on a system of labor taxation and controlled the production, collection, and redistribution of goods. These political and economic institutions gave the sites distinctive but parallel forms. First, the settlements were large, containing a great deal of monumental architecture, but size and construction do not reflect substantial populations because building was done by nonresident work forces. Second, the urban proletariat were relatively few in numbers and composed of retainers or service personnel at Cuzco, as well as craftsmen and artisans at Chan Chan. Third, civic facilities were intended to serve the aristocracy and the state, not the common citizenry because these were governmental, not folk or popular, centers. And, fourth, palaces tied up a great amount of urban space because each monarch built his own seat of government during life and this became a monument to his name after death.

In conclusion, I cannot say Chan Chan and Cuzco are necessarily typical of other prehistoric population centers in the region because these centers are little studied. I can, however, say Chan Chan was distinct from the preindustrial cities of Europe and Mesopotamia, but this is not surprising because the capital of Chimor was the product of distinctly Andean cultural institutions.