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The Politics of Death and Identity in Provincial Tiwanaku Society (A.D. 600–1100)


Studies of early state societies often focus on macro-level dynamics of social

diversity and inequality. Archaeological debates about the centralized or pluralistic nature of the Tiwanaku state (A.D.500–1000), the earliest expansive polity in the south- central Andes (Bolivia, Peru), hinge on understanding the relationships between its constituent individuals and lineage groups. Tiwanaku funerary processes propagated popular ideologies of reciprocal feasting, reflected personal histories of the deceased, and marked social boundaries through style and space. For this dissertation, I applied a multiscalar approach that examined 299 individual burials from 14 cemeteries at the provincial Tiwanaku center of Omo M10 in the Moquegua Valley (Southern Peru). The unprecedented size of this sample, new sampling methods, and outstanding preservation of burial assemblages shed new light on aspects of the Tiwanaku funerary process, and redefined the range of normative and non-normative Tiwanaku mortuary practices.

Variability of grave assemblages and tomb structure styles at Omo M10 highlights the social construction of age and gender identities in Tiwanaku society. Over the life course, individuals acquired economic and social capital. Textile and food production and consumption marked gendered spheres of practice and entangled Tiwanaku men and women into relations of duality and complementarity. For Tiwanaku kin communities living at Omo M10, cemeteries presented discrete private spaces for commemorating ancestors and cultivating shared memories, always within the broader ideological parameters of Tiwanaku mortuary practices. A non-Tiwanaku cemetery at the site indicates, for the first time, multiethnic interactions of Tiwanaku lowland groups with coastal populations. Overall, the burials provide little evidence for institutionalized social stratification in Tiwanaku’s provincial society. Maintaining the autonomy of kin group mortuary practices, the state instead appropriated non-normative death-related practices in the context of public offering rituals.

As the results of this dissertation illustrate, mortuary archaeology continues to be a versatile tool for multiscalar analyses of the past, and for elucidating the nature and intersection of personal and community-level identities. In doing so, this line of inquiry can make significant contributions to debates about social organization, power and inequality in ancient states, as ideological domains related to death and ancestors are contested, appropriated, and transformed.

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