University of Helsinki, Helsinki 2006
Death in the Bolivian High Plateau
Burials and Tiwanaku Society
Doctoral dissertation, October 2006.
My Ph.D. dissertation presents a multi-disciplinary analysis of the mortuary practices of the Tiwanaku culture of the Bolivian high plateau, situated at an altitude of c. 3800 m above sea level. The Tiwanaku State (c. AD 500-1150) was one of the most important pre-Inca civilisations of the South Central Andes.
The book begins with a brief introductory chapter. In chapter 2 I discuss methodological and theoretical developments in archaeological mortuary studies from the late 1960s until the turn of the millennium. I am especially interested in the issue how archaeological burial data can be used to draw inferences on the social structure of prehistoric societies. Chapter 3 deals with the early historic sources written in the 16th and 17th centuries, following the Spanish Conquest of the Incas. In particular, I review information on how the Incas manifested status differences between and within social classes and what kinds of burial treatments they applied. In chapter 4 I compare the Inca case with 20th century ethnographic data on the Aymara Indians of the Bolivian high plateau. Even if Christianity has affected virtually every level of Aymara religion, surprisingly many traditional features can still be observed in present day Aymara mortuary ceremonies.
The archaeological part of my book begins with chapter 5, which is an introduction into Tiwanaku archaeology. In the next chapter, I present an overview of previously reported Tiwanaku cemeteries and burials. Chapter 7 deals with my own excavations at the Late Tiwanaku/early post-Tiwanaku cemetery site of Tiraska, located on the south-eastern shore of Lake Titicaca. During the 1998, 2002, and 2003 field seasons, a total of 32 burials were investigated at Tiraska. The great majority of these were subterranean stone-lined tombs, each containing the skeletal remains of 1 individual and 1-2 ceramic vessels. Nine burials have been radiocarbon dated, the dates in question indicating that the cemetery was in use from the 10th until the 13th century AD.
In chapter 8 I point out that considerable regional and/or ethnic differences can be noted between studied Tiwanaku cemetery sites. Because of the mentioned differences, and a general lack of securely dated burial contexts, I feel that at present we can do no better than to classify most studied Tiwanaku burials into three broad categories: (1) elite and/or priests, (2) "commoners", and (3) sacrificial victims and/or slaves and/or prisoners of war. On the basis of such indicators as monumental architecture and occupational specialisation we would expect to find considerable status-related differences in tomb size, grave goods, etc. among the Tiwanaku. Interestingly, however, such variation is rather modest, and the Tiwanaku seem to have been a lot less interested in expending considerable labour and resources in burial facilities than their pre-Columbian contemporaries of many parts of the Central Andes.
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© University of Helsinki 2006
Last updated 29.09.2006