Elizabeth Arkush

  • Professor

Elizabeth Arkush (PhD UCLA 2005) is an archaeologist whose research in the Peruvian Andes has emphasized themes of war and violence, and their connections to political authority, community, and ideology. She has been engaged in field research in Peru since 1999.

Her comparative approach to understanding warfare explores how relationships of hostility and alliance shape individual, community, and regional identities, structure settlement patterns, generate social hierarchies, and inform ritual and the performance of authority. A secondary theme lies in the intersection of paleoclimate, the progressive modification of lands for agricultural and pastoral production, and Andean sociopolitical histories. Methodologically her research relies on spatial technologies such as drone mapping, GIS analysis, and remote sensing.

Research Description


Pukaras of the Peruvian Titicaca Basin

This long-term program of research has investigated conflict, political organization, and social relationships in Peru’s Lake Titicaca Basin, synthesizing fieldwork on pukara (hillfort) sites with ethnohistoric information and GIS approaches. Defensive pukara sites became very common ca. AD 1300-1450, implying that people adopted different forms of sociopolitical organization and relationships to the land than had previously characterized the region. Several field projects have specifically addressed the regional spatial patterning, chronology, economy, and intra-community organization of large pukara settlements. They include survey and excavations at Ayawiri (Machu Llaqta) in 2009-2013, an intensive study of residential and defensive architecture at Pucarani in 2015, drone-assisted mapping of several other pukaras (2017-19), and a collaborative satellite prospecting project with the GeoPACHA platform (ongoing).

Charting Andean Warfare in Space and Time

This ongoing “meta-study” charts patterns in the severity of warfare over time and space in the pre-Columbian Andes. It draws on a wealth of research by many archaeologists and bioarchaeologists to expand the scope of analysis beyond what is possible for single studies. The project relies on a large dataset of defensive settlement patterns and rates of adult craniofacial trauma from published studies. In combination, these lines of evidence indicate considerable peaks and lulls in the severity of warfare through time, as well as distinct coastal and highland histories. The study forms the basis for a forthcoming book and expands from a preliminary version published in Arkush and Tung (2013).

Lake core biomarkers project

This collaborative project with Elliott Arnold, Mark Abbott, Josef Werne, and Aubrey Hillman took sediment cores from three lakes in the Peruvian Titicaca basin, and analyzed sedimentology, isotope ratios and organic geochemistry, including fecal stanol biomarkers from humans and camelids, to arrive at a picture of paleoclimate and changing populations through time. The Lake Orurillo core was particularly productive and has formed the basis of two publications (Arnold et al. 2021a, 2021b). Our results indicate a major drought interval in the early Late Intermediate Period, corresponding to other central and southern Andean climate proxies, and also indicate a major subsequent expansion of camelid populations, producing distinctive organic chemistry in lake sediments.



  • ​Introduction to Archaeology
  • Warfare in Archaeology and Ethnography
  • Politics in Prehistory
  • South American Archaeology
  • GIS in Archaeology


  • Theoretical Approaches in Archaeology (graduate seminar)
  • Workshop on Publishing (graduate seminar)



Arkush, E. (2018) "Coalescence and Defensive Communities: Insights from an Andean Hillfort Town," Cambridge Archaeological Journal 28(1):1-22.

Arkush, E. (2017) "The End of Ayawiri: Abandonment at an Andean Hillfort Town,"  Journal of Field Archaeology 83:1-17.

Arkush, E. (2017) Coalescence and Defensive Communities: Insights from an Andean Hillfort Town. Cambridge Archaeological Journal. Online version 6/17, doi 10.1017/S0959774317000440.

Arkush, E. (2017) The End of Ayawiri: Abandonment at an Andean Hillfort Town. Journal of Field Archaeology 83:1-17.

Arkush, E. (2016) Arte rupestre en su entorno social: Ejemplares del intermedio tardío, horizonte tardío, y post-conquista (republica temprana) cerca de la Laguna Umayo, Vilque, Puno, in Arte Rupestre de la región del Lago Titicaca, ed. M. Strecker: 267-282.   Sociedad de Investigación del Arte Rupestre de Bolivia (SIARB), La Paz.

Langlie, B. & Arkush, E. (2016)Managing mayhem: Conflict, environment, and subsistence in the Andean Late Intermediate Period, Puno, Peru,” in The Archaeology of Food and Warfare, eds. A. VanDerwarker & G. Wilson: 259-290.  Springer. 

Arkush, E. (2014) “’I against my brother’: Conflict and confederation in the south-central Andes in late prehistory,” in Embattled Bodies, Embattled Places: War in Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica and the Andes, eds. A. Scherer & J. Verano: 199-226.  Dumbarton Oaks Library and Collections. 

Arkush, E. (2014) Soldados históricos en un panel de arte rupestre, Puno, Perú: Los caudillos del siglo XIX y el comentario político andino, Chungará 46(4):585-605. 

Arkush, E. & Tung, T. (2013) “Patterns of War in the Andes from the Archaic to the Late Horizon: Insights from Settlement Patterns and Cranial Trauma,” Journal of Archaeological Research 21(4):307-369.

Arkush, E. (2012) Violence, indigeneity, and archaeological interpretation in the central Andes, in The Ethics of Anthropology and Amerindian Research: Reporting on Environmental Degradation and Warfare, eds. R. J. Chacon & R. G. Mendoza: 289-309. Springer.  

Arkush, E. (2012) “Los pukaras y la poder: los collas en la cuenca septentrional del Titicaca,” in Arqueología de la Cuenca del Titicaca, Perú, eds. L. Flores & H. Tantaleán: 295-320.  IFEA, Lima.

Arkush, E. (2011) Hillforts of the Ancient Andes: Colla Warfare, Society, and Landscape.  University Press of Florida.

Arkush, E. (2011) Explaining the Past in 2010 (The Year in Review), American Anthropologist 113(2):200-212.

Arkush, E. (2009) “Warfare, space, and identity in the south-central Andes: Constraints and choices,”  in Warfare in Cultural Context: Practice, Agency, and the Archaeology of Violence, eds. A. E. Nielsen & W. H. Walker: 190-217.  University of Arizona Press.

Arkush, E. (2008) War, causality, and chronology in the Titicaca Basin, Latin American Antiquity 19(4):339-373.

Arkush, E. & Allen, M., eds. (2006) The Archaeology of Warfare: Prehistories of Raiding and Conquest.  University of Florida Press.

Arkush, E. & Stanish, C. (2005) Interpreting conflict in the ancient Andes: Implications for the archaeology of warfare, Current Anthropology 46 (1): 3-28.

Arkush, E. (2005) Inca ceremonial sites in the southwest Titicaca Basin, in Advances in the Archaeology of the Titicaca Basin, eds. C. Stanish, A. Cohen, & M. Aldenderfer: 209-242.  Cotsen Institute of Archaeology Press.