Umich Brown Bag 2012

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.