for National Geographic News
A thousand years ago, the residents of Cerro Baúl evacuated the frontier town in southern Peru.
But first they drank themselves silly on spicy corn beer, then set the brewery, palace, and temple on fire.
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This was no impromptu blowout, however. The event marked the ceremonial destruction of a sacred mountain enclave of the Wari people, a new archaeological study suggests.
The Wari empire built the settlement on top of a mesaa flat-topped mountainin the Andes mountains around A.D. 600.
Populated by the Wari elite, Cerro Baúl served as an embassy outpost to the neighboring Tiwanaku state for 400 years. As the two nations started to decline, the town was abandoned.
"Before torching the buildings as part of a systematic evacuation ritual, they brewed one last batch [of beer] and drank it all," said Michael Moseley, an anthropologist at the University of Florida in Gainesville.
"That was the end of the partytime to get out of Dodge," said Moseley, who led the study, which appears today in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Before the Inca reigned in South America, the Wari and Tiwanaku empires controlled the central Andes.
Both were agricultural societies. The Wari nation used sophisticated terracing techniques to cultivate the mountain slopes of Peru, while the Tiwanaku farmed the high plains of Bolivia to the south.
The Wari established the Cerro Baúl settlement at the southernmost point of their empire on top of a 2,000-foot-high (600-meter-high) mesa in the Moquegua Valley.
The site would seem a highly impractical place to live, because goods had to be hauled up the mountain at great cost.
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