Nasca mortuary customs: death and ancient society on the south coast of Peru
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AbstractThe sociopolitical structure of the Nasca culture (South Coast of Peru, circa A.D. 1-800) has been described as an urbanized state, a regional state, a complex chiefdom, and as a series of small chiefdoms. In the past, arguments favouring these various interpretations have been largely based on settlement patterns and pottery distributions. This study examines Nasca mortuary customs for evidence of hierarchical social structuring. In accordance with mortuary theory the treatment granted to an individual in death is taken as a reflection of his/her position in life. Differential treatments are seen to reflect the social structure of the society. The occupants of 213 Nasca burials are analyzed in terms of their biological age, sex, burial position, body treatment, tomb construction, tomb location, and grave goods. Pottery is given special attention as a common and less perishable form of grave inclusion. The sample is then partitioned into burial categories showing different amounts of energy expenditure. The number of these categories and the extent to which they are formally differentiated is interpreted as a reflection of vertical social structure. These findings are then compared with models of hierarchical organization in societies at differing levels of sociopolitical complexity. It is concluded that social structure, as revealed in mortuary remains, was relatively stable throughout the period under consideration. Ranking was present but there are no indications of stratification. The status system was highly graded, and formalized social ranks could not be discerned. These findings conform to patterns anticipated for chiefdom-level social formations. It is argued that Nasca represents a cultural tradition composed of several autonomous societies.
Bibliography: p. 437-458.