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Digging the Andes: ROM archaeologist uncovers modern trends in ancient Peru.


Globalization. It's a term we're all familiar with. But to describe the ancient world? For Justin Jennings, a ROM archaeologist who has been studying the Wari society of Peru for more than 12 years, the telltale signs are there: increased movement of goods, people, and ideas across the landscape radically changing peoples' lives. Jennings believes that leaps in interregional interaction occurred multiple times in Peru's past, triggering cultural consequences that are in many ways similar to what we are experiencing in today's globalized world.


The University of California graduate first went to the Cotahuasi Valley in southern Peru in 1997. A 12-hour bus ride from the city of Arequipa, his field site is spectacularly located in the world's deepest canyon. Jennings started the project thinking that the Wari culture of 600 to 1000 CE was an empire, and he expected to uncover evidence that the Wari were conquerers.

But that's not what he found. As in other regions of Peru, Jennings found pervasive Wari influence on local pots, textiles, and stonework. Yet there was little evidence of direct contact between Cotahuasi and the Wari capital 300 km away. This seeming contradiction led him to think more about what "style" means. "If you come into a room today wearing a U of T t-shirt, what does that mean?" he says. "Asking why people in Cotahuasi were buried with Wari-style pots and textiles is a similar question."

His recent excavations have been dedicated to finding the answer. Like any archaeologist, he takes disparate clues from his dig, like the shape of a skull or the decoration on a pot, and deciphers their meanings. He is thoughtful about giving back to the developing nation where he digs and is actively encouraging preservation and tourism.

But the goal for this cross-appointed teacher of Andean archaeology at U of T is to understand the past. It's a curiosity that has been there since childhood, when Jennings pored over pictures and stories about the Roman and Aztec empires and dug up the backyard seeking remnants of history.

But discovering what happened in Peru is more than the satisfying of curiosity. "Looking back on the past gives us a better sense of our own world," says Jennings. "To me, we are creating an artificial divide between the ancient and the modern when we don't use terms like globalization to describe past events. The spread of Wari civilization caused cultural changes just as monumental as those we are experiencing today. After all," he points out, "what is so unique about now?"


Chicha, or corn beer, is exceptionally important in Andes hospitality and was critical to ancient economies. But when ROM archaeologist Justin Jennings asked a villager how much was drunk at fiestas, the man rose angrily, exclaiming, "Chicha ... chicha ... who has been telling you I drink chicha?" Another villager claimed to drink one glass a week," says Jennings. "Then, three drinks into the discussion he challenged me to a drinking contest." Jennings learned to ask the women.


Justin Jennings is co-editor of the book Drink, Power, and Society in the Andes and is working on another tentatively titled The First Globalization.

Dr. Justin Jennings


Department of World Cultures

Academic Positions


Assistant Professor

Department of Anthropology, University of Toronto


Visiting Assistant


Department of Anthropology, Franklin and Marshall College



Ph.D. in Anthropology,

University of California, Santa Barbara
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Title Annotation:Our Curators
Author:Jack, Lee-Anne
Publication:ROM Magazine
Date:Mar 22, 2009
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