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Rise of Divine Lordships in the Ancient Andes

Ancestors and polity in northern Peru

 

In 2018 Dr George Lau was awarded a four-year research grant from the Arts & Humanities Research Council for a major archaeology project in the Peruvian Andes on ancient polities and systems of authority. The project is co-sponsored by the National Science Foundation (USA) and partners with a UEA/SRU alumnus, Dr David Chicoine, now based at Louisiana State University.

Divine lordships characterised much of western South America when the Europeans arrived in the 16th century. These native polities featured social ranking and kin-based lineages centred on special leaders who drew social and political authority as ancestral beings. Despite the prevalence of divine lordships across the world, very little is known about their emergence.

This project investigates the early record of divine lordship in ancient Peru. It grows out of previous work which observed evidence of political centralisation in two adjacent areas of northern Ancash: districts of Moro (Nepeña coastal midvalley) & Cabana (highland Pallasca). This project aims to more fully document and compare the process of centralisation (AD 1-200) in the two regions when the Chavin civilisation and religion disappeared. The comparison postulates that four main factors were crucial: intensified resource control; warfare; rival factions; and the ancestralisation of leaders.

View of Pashash’s main hilltop ‘La Capilla’ and strategic placement, at 3120 masl (Cabana region, Pallasca)

Lordships should show evidence of segmentary organisation, ancestor veneration and wealth differences. Excavation and survey teams will study their patterns in large compounds, the walled palatial spaces of kin groups at the seats of power. Burials and mausolea inside them may indicate 'living with the dead,' ritual practices that helped legitimise increasingly powerful noble groups. Post excavation analyses (organic & non-organic remains) should show variability in diet, wealth accumulation and trade items.

In addition to the field studies, the project team will work with local museums, universities and municipalities to help promote tourism, site protection and heritage outreach using the two case studies. The project will also create opportunities for students and researchers to build academic and public links between the UK, North America and Peru.