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Andean Expressions

Art and Archaeology of the Recuay Culture

George F. Lau

Publication Year: 2011

Flourishing from A.D. 1 to 700, the Recuay inhabited lands in northern Peru just below the imposing glaciers of the highest mountain chain in the tropics. Thriving on an economy of high-altitude crops and camelid herding, they left behind finely made artworks and grand palatial buildings with an unprecedented aesthetic and a high degree of technical sophistication. In this first in-depth study of these peoples, George Lau situates the Recuay within the great diversification of cultural styles associated with the Early Intermediate Period, provides new and significant evidence to evaluate models of social complexity, and offers fresh theories about life, settlement, art, and cosmology in the high Andes.
Lau crafts a nuanced social and historical model in order to evaluate the record of Recuay developments as part of a wider Andean prehistory. He analyzes the rise and decline of Recuay groups as well as their special interactions with the Andean landscape. Their  coherence was expressed as shared culture, community, and corporate identity, but Lau also reveals its diversity through time and space in order to challenge the monolithic characterizations of Recuay society pervasive in the literature today.
Many of the innovations in Recuay culture, revealed for the first time in this landmark volume, left a lasting impact on Andean history and continue to have relevance today. The author highlights the ways that material things intervened in ancient social and political life, rather than being merely passive reflections of historical change, to show that Recuay public art, exchange, technological innovations, warfare, and religion offer key insights into the emergence of social hierarchy and chiefly leadership and the formation, interaction, and later dissolution of large discrete polities. By presenting Recuay artifacts as fundamentally social in the sense of creating and negotiating relations among persons, places, and things, he recognizes in the complexities of the past an enduring order and intelligence that shape the contours of history.


Published by: University of Iowa Press


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pp. ix-xi

Like the story of Recuay culture that I present here, this work chronicles a peculiar journey involving engagements with all manner of persons, places, and things. I have been fortunate enough to conduct the research in a region of the world and on an ancient culture that I find...

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1. Toward a Recuay Prehistory

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pp. 1-20

In this book I offer a prehistory of the Central Andes. By “prehistory” I mean the archaeological record of social and cultural developments before the written sources of the early sixteenth century. I also refer to the broad and potent spectrum of disciplines which informs our knowledge...

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2. Land and Settlement in Ancient Ancash

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pp. 21-61

Work and daily routine are rarely easy affairs in mountainous zones. Yet Recuay groups flourished in one of the most dramatic settings in the world. Centered around the Cordillera Blanca and the Cordillera Negra, the Recuay heartland encompassed...

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3. Recuay Architecture

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pp. 63-83

Recuay groups built some of the most outstanding buildings of ancient Peru. Like their Chav

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4. Ritual Buildings and Landscapes

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pp. 85-126

Ancient Recuay ceremonialism was manifested throughout ancient Ancash as special types of ritual places. The major categories were temples, shrines, and mortuary structures. Where relevant, specific archaeological contexts are described here to detail the...

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5. Pottery and Society

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pp. 127-157

More than architecture and stone sculpture, pottery has been the hallmark of Recuay culture since the definition of the style some hundred years ago (Eisleb 1987; Grieder 1978; Reichert 1977; Smith 1978). Scholarly studies commenced at the turn of the...

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6. Objects of Stone

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pp. 159-190

Some of the most durable artifacts of the ancient Andes included carefully worked sculptures, implements, and related objects made from stone. In this chapter I focus on their forms and distribution to help explore the types of material engagements that...

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7. Chiefly Worlds in Artworks and Imagery

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pp. 191-241

Imagery is understood here broadly as the iconographic, decorative, and formal elements of objects, especially those which have representational effect or desire. Shared imagery was vital to Recuay social life, being pervasive in the look and practice of community ceremony...

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8. A Prehistory of Recuay Culture

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pp. 243-264

My goal in this concluding chapter is to produce a diachronic model of the character and workings of the culture which elaborates on different forms of evidence presented earlier. The discussion weaves two intersecting themes and data sets, organized...

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9. Epilogue

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pp. 265-267

In most societies, it takes some doing to erase the memory of past groups and their cultures. Ancient places and things have different potentials of becoming again. They reintegrate into other traditions, participate in new narratives, become received wisdoms, and fall in and...

Appendix 1: Demographics in the Department of Ancash

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p. 271

Appendix 2: Radiocarbon Dates from Highland Ancash

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pp. 272-275


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pp. 277-279


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pp. 281-324


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pp. 325-338

E-ISBN-13: 9781587299742

Page Count: 338
Publication Year: 2011

OCLC Number: 727366873
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Andean Expressions

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Subject Headings

  • Indian art -- Peru -- Ancash.
  • Indian architecture -- Peru -- Ancash.
  • Recuay culture -- Peru -- Ancash.
  • Indian pottery -- Peru -- Ancash.
  • Ancash (Peru) -- Antiquities.
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