Ritual in the Making of Ethnicity at Las Varas, Peru
Noon Thursday, October 11 2012
Museum of Natural History
University of Michigan
Excavations at Las Varas, an 11th-century village in northern Peru, revealed two main entrances to the site: a western entrance for receiving 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.