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Tracking Recuay Ceramic Traditions: A Materiality Approach to Political Economy in the Ancient Andes
thesisposted on 22.11.2021, 22:42 by Marie E Gravalos
This dissertation investigates the role of materials in political and social life from an archaeological perspective. Specifically, I examine political economy by diachronically tracking ceramic production and exchange among ancient Recuay communities in the north-central highlands of Peru (ca. 350 BC – AD 1000). Studies have long assessed political economy in the ancient past through the identification of prestige wares and foreign ceramic styles at regional centers. However, in the case of highland Peru, where trade relations increased after AD 700, due in part to the expansion of the Wari state, identifying foreign goods does little to explain the social, political, and economic processes that led to their materialization. Moreover, a focus on ceramic design style alone may underemphasize the lived experiences of non-elites or the quotidian practices that went into the making and use of plain ceramics. This dissertation relocates our scholarly emphasis to the more mundane and perhaps seemingly inanimate aspects of daily life in the past. To do so, I explore how diverse Recuay communities related to each other, the landscape, and raw materials in the context of crafting pottery. I develop a diachronic political geology of Recuay community organization, which emphasizes the ways in which humans, earthly formations (i.e., clay, stone, sediments), and other-than-human beings co-created and transformed political life. This approach highlights the ontological politics of Recuay pottery making, in which raw materials and landscapes were active participants, both socially and through their specific and changing material qualities. This dissertation is unique in that it compares ceramic data from recent excavations at the archaeological site of Jecosh with that of museum collections housed in Peru and the US. I bring together data on 11 archaeological sites from the Callejón de Huaylas valley of highland Ancash. Specifically, I present the results of petrographic thin section analysis and laser ablation–inductively coupled plasma–mass spectrometry (LA-ICP-MS) to evaluate ceramic production and raw material procurement practices over the longue durée. After describing the regional context of ceramic production and exchange, I scale down to understanding ceramic production at the village of Jecosh, identifying a genealogy of potting practice through an analysis of technological and design attributes. As a part of this broader analytical project, I explore the concept of archaeological narrative. I consider how archaeologists have utilized ceramic data to construct specific narratives of the past. Ultimately, I suggest that a political geology problematizes our current narrative plots of highland Ancash and can help provide a way forward in our interpretations. My findings indicate that individual Recuay communities produced ceramics in their immediate vicinities, but that they also engaged in the exchange of raw materials, knowledge about production practices, and ceramic vessels. The results of LA-ICP-MS demonstrate two clear constellations of practice among the Recuay, one situated in the northern Callejón de Huaylas and another in the southern end of the valley. Simultaneously, petrography reveals that people utilized local production practices and knowledge of their surrounding landscape to craft pottery. I argue that people exchanged kaolin clay, as well as other raw materials, as part of an ontological politics rooted in ancestral land claims. Such land claims and ontological politics likely relate to the veneration of specific Recuay community ancestors, whose material forms, like white kaolin clay, were emergent and dynamic landscape features. I suggest that the specific physical and chemical qualities of raw materials—how and when they manifested on the landscape—helped to co-create Recuay authority and community organization among these discrete northern and southern sociopolitical spheres. The distribution of raw materials during the early half of the first millennium AD helped to relationally distribute political ties and co-created community life. These relational networks had implications for the subsequent period of Wari expansion. Groups in the northern Callejón de Huaylas drastically shifted their production practices at the onset of Wari expansion, including a shift toward new raw material resources. While politics in the north were rearranged, trade relations and community life continued like normal in the southern Callejón de Huaylas, including at the village of Jecosh. I suggest that Jecosh’s long-term trade relationships with communities to the west (i.e., coastal) and east (i.e., Callejón de Conchucos) over several centuries—including the exchange of plain ware pottery—led to a continuity in community production and consumption practices over the longue durée. Through this regional and site-based study, I show how the historically situated entanglements of humans, things, substances, and landscapes contributed to dynamic political economies in ancient Peru.