The Wari leaders of a 1,200-year-old town now called Quilcapampa may have used their access to the psychoactive substance vilca to help keep their people loyal, a team of archaeologists says.
Recent excavations at the center of Quilcapampa, a site in southern Peru, revealed 16 vilca seeds alongside the remains of a drink made from fermented fruit that scientists refer to as “chicha de molle.”
Excavation of the remains of a feast at Quilcapampa. New research reveals that vilca was mixed with a drink to produce hallucinations.
The archaeologists found the seeds and drink in an area of the site that contains buildings that were likely used for feasting, the team of researchers wrote in a paper published Jan. 12 in the journal Antiquity.
The people who lived at Quilcapampa were part of the Wari (or Huari) culture that flourished between roughly A.D. 500 and A.D. 1000.
They did not use a writing system, and so there are no written records describing them. While images depicting vilca have been found at other Wari sites, this is the first time that vilca seeds have been found at a Wari site.
Vilca is a psychoactive substance that can induce hallucinations. When it is served with chicha de molle, vilca can be even more potent than on its own, the researchers said.
Compounds in the drink called monoterpene hydrocarbons and beta-carbolines “would have heightened the psychotropic effects of vilca,” the researchers wrote in the Antiquity article.
By mixing vilca and the drink, the Wari people would have experienced hallucinations that they would likely have considered a spiritual experience.
“Almost certainly, it would have been a spiritual experience,” study co-author Justin Jennings, a curator of New World Archaeology at the Royal Ontario Museum, told Live Science in an email. He noted that at other Wari sites drawings depicting vilca are associated with the gods.”
Getting the vilca seeds would have been challenging for those living at Quilcapampa. “These vilca seeds would have been collected from tropical woodlands on or near the eastern flanks of the Andes,” and long-distance trade networks would have been required to bring them to Quilcapampa, the researchers wrote in the Antiquity paper.