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El Shincal

El Shincal

El Shincal de Quimivil

El Shincal de Quimivil, in the province of Catamarca, is one of the most important and emblematic archaeological sites evidencing the Inca presence in northwestern Argentina.

In its expansion process based on an efficient socio-political, economic, religious and roadway organization, the Inca Empire or Tawantinsuyu managed to spread to this region in the last third of the 15th century, incorporating the various ethnic groups that inhabited it, such as the Omahuacas, Pulares and Diaguito-Calchaquíes, into the southern sector of the empire, the Collasuyu.

El Shincal (whose original name is unknown) was built and inhabited as the administrative and ceremonial capital of an Inca wamani (Quechua term for province) between 1471 and 1536. It is located in a fertile terrain at 1350 meters above sea level at the foot of Cerro Shincal between the rivers Quimivil and Hondo and the Simbolar creek. With its watercourses next to the Inca road network of the Qhapaq Ñan, it offered propitious characteristics for the Incas to identify it as a tinkuy or meeting place.

The surrounding vegetation is a scrub forest, dominated by carob and chañar trees, with edible fruits, as well as shinqui bushes. The stone structures were found in a good state of preservation due to the vegetation cover provided by the shinqui (Mimosa farinosa), from which the current name of El Shincal derives.

Altogether it occupies an area of more than 30 hectares with almost a hundred stone and masonry precincts in an orthogonal urban layout. Archaeological research since the 1990s by Dr. Rodolfo A. Raffino and his collaborators have recovered remains of buildings that were part of the urban center.

El Shincal de Quimivil has been considered as a "New Cusco" by researchers such as R.A. Raffino and Ian Farrington, because it brings together architectural and natural elements that replicate symbolic patterns of spatial structuring of the capital of the Tawantinsuyu, recreating the Inca's cosmovision and expressing his power and authority.

Main building structures

The aukaipata or central square is the core of the urban planning. It defined the public meeting place for the festive, ceremonial or political gatherings. Square in shape, it measures 175 x 175 meters and its sides are arranged according to the cardinal directions. It was delimited by a stone wall about one meter high. In its center is located the ushnu or ceremonial platform and to the south side, there is an administrative or ceremonial building of the kallanka construction type.

Towards the southwest of the plaza there is a double wall of 60 m length and approx. 0.80 m width in its base, with four doors or trapezoidal openings of 1 m width. The specialists interpret it as a symbolic threshold, an architectural element that limited the visibility and determined the approach to the ceremonial space of ritual and power from the main access.

A ramified stone aqueduct supplied water to the urban area from the Quimivil River. It entered the plaza on its west side passing in front of the steps to the ceremonial platform.


The ushnu in the center of the plaza was one of the most important elements in the social, political and religious life of the Tawantinsuyu. As a symbolic architectural structure of power, it is found only in places of special importance, for example a wamani capital, as is the case of El Shincal. It was a kind of stage where local authorities were honored, judgments were pronounced, religious ceremonies with libations and offerings were held, and astronomical observations were made by installing a gnomon (a guiding object that casts a shadow on a plane).

The ushnu of El Shincal is the largest built by the Incas south of Lake Titicaca. A square of 16 m side and 2 m height, it features a slightly truncated pyramidal shape with double walls 1 m thick, built with blocks of cut stone and filled with mud mortar and stone fragments. It can be accessed from the west by a staircase of nine stone steps, which leads to a trapezoidal doorway. In its interior it had a floor paved with small pebbles brought from the shores of the Simbolar stream. This cocha was used for libations and offerings. In front of the north wall there is a tiana or Inca throne, a stone bench made of flat blocks, about 3 m long and 80 cm wide and high.

The ushnu of El Shincal was reused in colonial times during the second indigenous rebellion against the Spaniards (Great Diaguita Uprising - Gran Alzamiento Diaguita) commanded by the cacique Chelemín in the 1630s. Different authors observe that it was used for festive events or pachamanca (ceremonial cooking) for which the floor was perforated.


On the east and west sides of the plaza, complementing the sacred landscape of El Shincal, are the Eastern and Western Terraced Hills. This axis marks the sunrise and sunset equinoxes. They are about 25 m high and were artificially flattened and surrounded by a compact wall. Their summit is accessed by stone staircases. They were undoubtedly associated with religious activities linked to the solar cult of the Incas and also used for astronomical observations.

Eastern Cerro Aterrazado
Its access stairway of 103 stone steps is completely straight, entering the summit through the remains of a door. In the place there are vestiges of a rectangular structure at the south side that is supposed to have been a temple of the Sun.


Western Cerro Aterrazado
It is more irregular in shape and can be accessed via a waved staircase. It is surrounded by an imposing walled enclosure in which there are changes in the direction of the walls causing a zig-zag effect very typical of Inca architecture. No building was found at the top but in the north there is a granite outcrop with two large fissures, which was probably worshipped as waka or huaca rocks linked to the ancestors and endowed with special powers. There is also a mortar with several hollows, located towards the northern edge, with apparently ceremonial functions.


Around the square is located the administrative district with five large rectangular buildings of hewn stone and gabled roofs called kallanka. They were destined to diverse political, administrative, ceremonial activities and craft manufacturing. One of them kallanka Nr. 2, whose walls, gables and trapezoidal openings have been reconstructed, is located in the southern sector of the interior of the aukaipata square.

The kallanka Nr. 1 to the northwest of the aukaipata serves as a reference due to the research that archaeologists have been able to carry out there. Although this building is attached to the plaza, it is not directly connected to it. It forms a building complex or kancha, with a courtyard located to the west. K1 has a rectangular floor plan of 33 m x 5.60 m. It has double walls, formed by polyhedral stone blocks with an interior floor of gravel and terracotta. The height of the walls was about 1.80 meters. The gables must have reached up to 3.5 to 4 meters. In the interior wall there is a series of niches and in the opposite wall there are indications of the existence of windows. The roof was of the hichu type, made of wood and straw. For the remains found it is concluded that in the Inca period the kallanka 1 was a building destined to domestic and artisan activities like the manufacture of ceramic utensils.


These units are arranged around the aukaipata square and along the road. In Inca architecture, dwellings were generally built in a rectangular shape in groups of more than three rooms, surrounding a central internal courtyard. The archaeological denomination of these structures is RPC (Rectangular Perimeter Compound), the Quechua term is kancha. One of them, called Casa del Curaca, was destined for the rulers or the elite and was located in isolation to the west of the aukaipata. Others, in addition to being permanent residences, could also accommodate guests arriving for festive or ritual events. There are units that could have functioned as temples.


To the south of the plaza there are remains of an architectural complex, whose Quechua name means "house of the warrior." In a first instance it was supposed to be barracks. It has a total area of 1,724 m2 and is composed of twenty enclosures, twelve of them grouped in two compound perimeter rectangles (RPC) or kanchas. As research progressed, it has been determined that they were standardized rooms for groups of low social status, who were probably in charge of the construction and maintenance of the buildings. The surface of the roofed area allowed a simultaneous occupation of about two hundred individuals.

The cylindrical storage units called collca were used as deposits for food (corn, carob) and other basic products. Some 30 collca have been counted around the main plaza. Storage was part of the redistribution system of the Inca State. The surplus production of a self-sufficient population was accumulated in these deposits to be disposed of by the rulers at their discretion for different purposes.

In general, the collca were built with stone walls joined with mortar, could have some type of plaster on the internal walls and had a stone foundation and hichu roofs (wood and straw). The circular or elliptical collca had a diameter of 2 to 6 m and their height could vary from 2 to 3.5 m.


At El Shincal, a total of 29 polished granite boulders with numerous cavities have been found. They count a total of 339 grinding units with most of the holes perfectly polished and arranged in the same horizontal plane.

These fixed multiple mortars may have functioned in contexts of agricultural work or settlement construction, but probably to a greater extent in a coordinated manner for the preparation of large volumes of food and drink for the people who arrived to participate in the periodic ceremonial festivities at El Shincal.

There are cavities distinguished by being located in sectors on top of hills (as at the Cerro Aterrazado Occidental). It is assumed that their function was specifically ritual, such as for liquid offerings.


To the north of the plaza about 500 m from the ceremonial platform there is a carved rock on a red granite slab of 1.7 by 0.85 m, approximately 21 cm high and 30 cm in diameter, which is accessed through a staircase hewn into the bedrock. It is supposed to be a gnomon-type instrument (guide object that projected shadow on a plane) or intihuatana, related to the ritual and to astronomical observation.

A section of the Qhapaq Ñan or Inca Trail crosses the Shincal from northeast to southwest. It comes from the north of the Hualfín Valley, from the Inca sites of Hualfín and Quillay, crosses the urban site to the west of the aukaipata square, then runs along a terraced hill further west in direction of one of the slopes of the so-called Casa del Curaca (House of the Curaca). This road also maintained the connection between El Shincal and the nearby agricultural production and pastoral areas.

The Qhapaq Ñan is the Andean road system, built by the Incas from pre-Inca structures, whose branches cross six Latin American countries: Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru, covering a total of approximately 30,000 kilometers. The road network connected Cusco, the Inca capital of Tawantinsuyu with the different regions annexed as part of the Inca expansion process. It constituted also a means of political, administrative, economic and cultural integration. It was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2014.


El Shincal - Chronology

Summarized from: R. A. Raffino. El Shincal de Quimivil. Ed. Sarquis, 2004. Translated into English by UiU.

Early Formative Period (500 B.C.-400 A.D.)
The site was occupied by Saujíl and Ciénaga cultural groups. The archaeological evidence are ceramics of the aforementioned styles.

Late Formative Period (400-800 d.C.)
Occupation of groups of the La Aguada Culture in the area of the Simbolar River. The archaeological evidence is exclusively artifactual (ceramics).

Inca Horizon (1471-1536 d.C.)
The Tawantinsuyu occupies the region and builds El Shincal. Dates based on radioactive carbon (C14) obtained at the buildings sinchihuasi, kallanka 1 and ushnu, correspond to this period.

Autumn of 1536
Diego del Almagro and his conquering army are on their way to Chile. According to chroniclers' sources, as well as archaeological records, he must have camped and stocked up at El Shincal and then at Watungasta, before ascending the Andes Mountains.

June 1558
Juan Perez de Zurita, coming from Chile, founds the settlement Londres de la Nueva Inglaterra, which lasts for a period of three years, being abandoned during the first indigenous rebellion commanded by the cacique Juan Calchaquí. This occupation still has not been able to be registered inside the urban grounds of El Shincal. However, the hypothesis remains firm that Zurita used the enclosures, walls and water from the aqueducts built years before by the Incas in El Shincal.

During the incidents of the second indigenous rebellion, known as the Gran Alzamiento Diaguita (Great Diaguita Uprising), El Shincal is occupied by the indigenous troops of cacique Chelemín. From there he attacks the town of Londres, seizes cattle and cuts off its water supply. Numerous archaeological testimonies of these events, supported by absolute dates, are registered in the structure of the ushnu and in the kallanka 1.

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Location, access:

El Shincal de Quimivil
Located 5 km from the present town of Londres, on National Route 40, in the department of Belén, province of Catamarca.

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Raffino, Rodolfo A. (Comp.) 2004. El Shincal de Quimivil. San Fernando del Valle de Catamarca: Ed. Sarquis.

Raffino, Rodolfo A., Iácona, L.A., Moralejo, R.A., Gobbo, D. y Couso, M.G. (Comps. y Eds.) 2015. Una Capital Inka al Sur del Kollasuyu: El Shincal de Quimivil. CABA: Fundación de Historia Natural Félix de Azara

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Summaries, editing, translations, photos: Universes in Universe

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