UMMA Brown Bag Series: Ritual in the Making of Ethnicity at Las Varas, Peru


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  • Speaker: Howard Tsai, University of Michigan
  • Host Department: Museum of Anthropology
  • Date: 10/11/2012
  • Time: 12:00 PM - 01:00 PM

  • Location: 2009 Ruthven Museum

  • Description:

    Excavations at Las Varas, an 11th-century village in northern Peru, revealed two main entrances to the site: a western entrance that received visitors from the Pacific coast and a southern entrance for
    those arriving from the Andean highlands. Next to the western entrance we found a small platform with large quantities of coastal-style pottery. Next to the southern entrance we found three interconnected plazas, the smallest of which was surrounded by cist tombs – stone-lined pits containing human remains. I argue that, at Las Varas, ritual was a mechanism for recognizing and distinguishing ethnic groups. Visitors from the highlands arrived in plazas that held ceremonies for the ancestors, while those arriving from the other side – the coast – had to go through a checkpoint guarded by the platform. Perhaps, as Rappaport suggested, ritual served to discretize or “digitize”what would have been continuous or “analog” social categories such as class, age, and ethnicity.