Researchers working in the Moquegua area support the idea that the Wari polity was an empire or expansive state, however some archaeologists working in other areas do not consider Wari to have controlled other regions.
Evidence for a Wari presence comes in two forms: architectural complexes built with Wari style architecture and portable objects made in the Wari style, such as pottery or textiles. Some archaeologists argue that the Wari only controlled areas with architectural complexes, also called provincial centers, whereas Wari engaged in trade or influenced other regions where only Wari style goods are present.
Schrieber (1992) has interpreted the pattern of Wari remains differently using cross-cultural comparisons with other empires. She points out that regions with Wari style architecture were likely under direct Wari control while large regional centers with Wari imperial style goods such as finely decorated pottery and textiles with Wari motifs were indirectly controlled by the Wari Empire through the cooperation of regional leaders. Thus she describes Wari political organization as a “mosiac of control.”
These two models have different implications for the settlement patterns we might expect to find . If each province did have a Wari style provincial center then all provinces should look the same. Each would have a provincial center with the largest population and monuments. The province would be divided into regions each with a secondary center that would be surrounded by villages and smaller sites.
If we consider Schreiber’s “mosaic of control” model then there are at least two possible settlement patterns. Schreiber (2001) has suggested that Wari provincial centers were only built in regions that lacked large centralized polities (chiefdoms) at the time of conquest. Therefore in areas with Wari style provincial centers we would expect to see a large monumental center and several smaller local centers (perhaps characteristic of very small chiefdoms or tribes). Smaller sites would cluster around local centers. These areas would have Wari officials living at the provinvial center exerting direct control and they would need to regularly interact with local leader to manage the province.
In areas without Wari provincial centers but exhibiting concentrations of imperial pottery, textiles, and other Wari prestige goods at regional centers we would expect that local cooperative elites would continue to rule from their own capitals. The regional settlement pattern may not change. Instead the ruling elite would start to use Wari style prestige goods. These would show up in monumental settings and rich tombs. There may be some small enclave of Wari buildings or Wari material culture at these centers, which represents emissaries from the central government, but these may be difficult to locate in a large urban center. Wari officials may be present in these local centers and control these groups indirectly through their own leaders.
Unfortunately, many areas with and without Wari provincial centers have not been systematically surveyed. Therefore these models can not be verified at the present time. To test these theoretical models surveyors will need to examine the settlement patterns before and during the Wari era to see if there are significant shifts with the onset of Wari influence (the appearance of Wari style goods). In addition, excavation will be required to examine if there are any important changes taking place at regional centers. If these smaller polities were indirectly controlled by the Wari Empire, intense long‐term interactions with the Wari centralized government undoubtedly stimulated changes that can be detected in the material record.
Settlement patterns can be a good way to determine the relative complexity of a particular society. If the city of Huari was the capital of a large expansive empire then there are at least four levels in the site settlement hierarchy: capital, provincial center, regional/local center, village. Yet the current debates among scholars indicate that for some the question whether Wari was the capital of an overarching polity remains open. More survey and excavation studies are needed to resolve the scale of the Wari polity and its territorial domain.
Some archaeologists are trying to determine the extent of the Wari Empire based on the presence of Wari style architecture, pottery textiles and other portable goods. These attributes can not be taken out of their context. In depth studies that include settlement patterns and excavation of selected sites are needed to resolve this important question and broaden our understanding of state development and political dynamics in the ancient Andes.