Psychedelic beer helped build the South American Wari Empire, research says

Beer laced with hallucinogenic substances plant seed derived may have helped leaders of a South American culture maintain theirs political control for hundreds of years, according to new research.

The Warriors, who built an empire and ruled the highlands in what is now Peru from 600 CE to 1000 CE, preceded the Incas.

Archaeological excavations at the Quilcapampa site in southern Peru, which took place between 2013 and 2017, have found that Wari used seeds from the vilca tree and combined the hallucinogenic substance with chicha, or beer made from the molle tree.

New findings suggest that before the Incas, Wari civilization nurtured their alliances with psychedelic beer. (Getty)

This beer was then served to guests at joint parties, which strengthened the relationship while maintaining Wari’s political control.

The research, published Tuesday in the journal Antiquity, has shown the first evidence of vilca seeds at a Wari site.

The discovery of vilca at Quilcapampa fills a gap in the understanding of how different civilizations used drugs.

“This was a turning point in the Andes in terms of politics and the use of hallucinogens,” said study author Matthew Biwer, a visiting assistant professor of archeology at Dickinson College in Pennsylvania.

“We see this kind of use of hallucinogens as a different context of use than in previous civilizations, which seem to have closely guarded the use of hallucinogens for a select few, or the latter Inca empire, which emphasized the mass consumption of beer, but not used psychotropic drugs such as vilca at parties. “

Researchers have not yet revealed the cause behind the collapse of the Wari Empire, but studying Wari sites reveals more about its people.

“The Wari Empire stretched from northern Peru to the extreme south near the Chilean border and from the coast to the Andes mountain ranges,” said Professor Biwer.

“It is the first example of an empire in South America that collapsed about 400 years before the rise of the Inca Empire.”

It has long been known that the Wari used beer and parties as part of their political control, but research proved their access to vilca and its use as a hallucinogen.

The Warriors held dominion over the Peruvian highlands. (Getty Images / iStockphoto)

In addition, the researchers discovered evidence that the Wari brewed chicha in large quantities. Next to the well-preserved botanical remains were pottery from the center of the site, indicating that this is where the festivities were held, the study authors said.

“The Warriors added the vilca to the chicha beer to impress guests at their parties who could not return the experience,” said Professor Biwer.

“This created a indebted relationship between Wari hosts and guests, probably from the surrounding region.

A pre-Inca Peruvian artifact. The Wari maintained roads that the Incas later used. (Getty Images / iStockphoto)

“We argue that the party, the beer and the vilca thus served to create and cement social connections between Wari – affiliated peoples and the local population as the empire expanded. It was also a way for Wari leaders to demonstrate and maintain social, economic and political power. “

The guests at these parties would have felt compelled to acknowledge the power of their hosts or feel the need to owe them a favor in the future, he said.

“In the Andes, this is typically known to have happened by consuming beer (chicha), llama meat, various plants such as corn and potatoes and other foods and beverages,” said Professor Biwer.

The use of vilca, typically inhaled as snuff or through a tube, dates back at least 4000 years, indicated by an old tube from the time found at the Inca Cueva site in Argentina. The drug was also used by those in Tiwanaku, a neighboring town in Bolivia, under Wari rule.

A ritual for empire building

Previous results also showed that vilca was only delivered to some, such as priests, and not available to everyone.

The Warriors, however, were likely to drop the drug into their alcohol and give it to others, which effectively amplified the psychoactive effects of both drugs. This inclusive behavior of the Wari elites not only showed their hospitality, but offered an experience that was not widely available elsewhere and that could not be easily repeated by anyone who might wish to oppose Wari control.

“They may have experienced euphoric or spiritual sensations,” Professor Biwer said.

The hallucinogenic beer was a unique gift that Wari could offer allies. (Getty Images / iStockphoto)

“This type of food would have been a very powerful experience for guests who were taken on a journey by Wari hosts.”

It would have been too dry in the region around Quilcapampa to grow vilca, he said.

“Wari established a system of roads that the later Inca used, which moves people and resources,” said Professor Biwer.

“I would say it would not have been accessible to everyone as it was in the interest of the Wari leaders to control the use and access to vilca, but it would not have been extremely difficult to get vilca to Quilcapampa.”

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Vilca is growing in the Ayacucho region, where the capital of the Wari empire once lay, as well as parts of the Cusco region 400 km from Quilcapampa, he said.

Previous research has shown that Wari was also able to access other distant resources, such as seashells, obsidian and Amazonian feathers.

Next, Professor Biwer and his team are eager to search for Wari sites in a coastal valley in Peru. Discovering new places can help scientists determine how climate change and drought could have affected Wari before their reign ended.

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