1. University of Virginia
  2. Arts & Sciences

Proposal Defense

The proposed research examines the relationship between ancestor veneration and political power in the Colla polity of Peru’s Titicaca Basin through systematic surface collection and targeted excavations at the understudied necropolis of Sillustani. Archaeological and ethnohistoric sources from the Colla region support contrasting models of ancestor veneration. Archaeological investigations demonstrate that with the collapse of Tiwanaku (c. AD 1000) Lake Titicaca Basin residents abandoned a 1500 year tradition of monumental art and architecture. During the Late Intermediate Period (AD 1000-1450), when people were likely sensitive to elite aggrandizing strategies, Titicaca Basin residents stopped ‘living’ the symbols of Tiwanaku authority. Ritual turned to simpler expressions focused on the veneration of lineage ancestors housed in modest burial towers. Such a transformation seems to suggest that ancestor veneration promoted more equitable forms of sociality, and may have even militated against emergent hierarchy in the post-collapse period. This hypothesis is consistent with the popular belief that the Colla necropolis of Sillustani functioned primarily as a pilgrimage center where various lineages gathered periodically to honor their respective ancestors and solidify the collective identity. Contrary to this argument, early colonial documents describe the Colla as a politically centralized kingdom, or señorío, and raise the possibility that Sillustani was the political capital of a powerful Colla lord. If the Colla were as centralized as Spanish documents suggest, and leaders resided at Sillustani, it is probable that much of their power derived from their proximity to Sillustani's burials. In examining whether ancestor veneration promoted or constrained the development of political authority in Colla society, this project employs architectural, faunal and ceramic analyses with the goal ofexamining the presence or absence of status and wealth asymmetries between the various groups that used and/or occupied Sillustani. Furthermore, by comparing data from Sillustani with previously analyzed assemblages from the nearby domestic site of Machu Llaqta, this project will evaluate the relative social standing of Sillustani’s residents vis-à-vis a Colla settlement where inhabitants were not obviously engaged in the custodianship of ancestors. While research at Sillustani will contribute to regional debates surrounding the nature of Colla social organization, it also provides a unique opportunity to bring the ancestor veneration literature to bear on recent discussions concerning the regeneration of post-collapse societies.

Event Date: 
Friday, 12 April 2013 - 10:00am to 12:00pm
Erika Brant
Speaker Title: 
Ancestors and Aggrandizers: Modeling Ancestor Veneration and Political Authority in a Post-collapse Andean Society (AD 1000-1450)
Event Type: