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  • Perspectives on Early Andean Civilization in Peru: Interaction, Authority, and Socioeconomic Organization during the First and Second Millennia B.C. ed. by Richard L. Burger et al.
  • Susan Elizabeth Ramírez (bio)
Perspectives on Early Andean Civilization in Peru: Interaction, Authority, and Socioeconomic Organization during the First and Second Millennia B.C. Edited by Richard L. Burger, Lucy C. Salazar, and Yuji Seki. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2020. Pp. 234.

This book, focusing on the first and second millennia BCE in the Central Andes, is the result of a session at the Fifty-Fourth International Congress of Americanists in 2012. It brings together well-illustrated papers on the Caballo Muerto Complex; the Tembladera area of the middle Jequetepeque Valley; the individual sites of Cardal, Anchucaya, Kuntur Wasi, and Pacopampa; and wider regional perspectives on exchange and interactions. Of special note is the realization that these early peoples built impressive ceremonial centers of packed earth and stone using simple tools. Bone and copper utensils and woven nets that aided hunters exemplify the technological means available.

One theme that impresses is the long-term continuity between this early era and historically known times. Jason Nesbitt writes of labor mobilization in the Moche Valley, stressing the "wealth in people" by citing an African article, without mentioning that the concept is abundantly described in Spanish chronicles as early as the mid-sixteenth century. These eye-witness accounts discuss an authority's status and define "wealth" by the number of followers or devotees an individual could mobilize. Evidence of such a concept on the ground are the distinct groups of workers who, using minimal technology, transformed and remodeled architecture for as long as five centuries. Builders were not coerced, Nesbit proposes, but volunteered, expecting to gain spiritual benefit by taking part, much like the followers of sixteenth-century chieftains. By building monumental architecture, people forged collective memories that gave them a sense of community and identity and fostered shared religious ideas. The mention of ancestor worship in Jequetepeque and Kuntur Wasi, likewise, is a constant from this period until the mid-seventeenth century.

Another theme relates to authority. Many authors identify an inchoate elite as specialists who used esoteric knowledge and ideology to encourage participation in common projects. Some authors mention increasing social differentiation, hierarchy, and a weak form of leadership. At Pacopampa, an elite group based its power on monopolizing astronomical observations that helped predict rain and the advent of the planting season.

But unlike Pacopampa's sky-watching specialists, other leaders' status was tied to the ability to acquire or produce exotic goods. In other words, their power depended on inter-regional and long-distance trade. Gold, Spondylus, and other tropical shells, agate, obsidian, sodalite, specialized [End Page 236] pottery, cinnabar, and striped felines were all probably transported by domesticated llamas. At Pacopampa, the ability to mine and produce items like copper beads, pins, or chisels and control their distribution is hypothesized as the origins of power. The conclusions argue for administered trade, a topic of great interest among historians in the late 1970s and 1980s.

Despite all this effort and the resulting cornucopia of information, two issues require more attention. The first is the significance of female burials, for example of the Lady of Pacopampa. Gold and shell grave goods and evidence of special preparation—being adorned with red (cinnabar) and blue (azurite) pigments—show the emergence of leadership and social differentiation. Most scholars associate control with men. So, what do these women represent? Are they founding mothers of matrilineal societies? How did they actively wield power?

The second area requiring more attention are the commoners. The almost universal excavations of monumental architecture carried out at ritual centers exclude them, except as a mute source of communal labor. The notable exception here is the study by Milan, whose excavation unearthed not as first thought a U-shaped public center but, under refuse heaps, a hamlet with common people's dwellings. Until more attention is paid to such dwellings and the scattered inhabited sites around the monumental, attention-grabbing centers, the story of these early peoples will remain incomplete.

Susan Elizabeth Ramírez

Susan Elizabeth Ramírez is Neville G...


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pp. 236-237
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