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Abstract

During the period referred to as the Middle Horizon, approximately AD 500 to 1100, a particular style of iconography, depicted on polychrome ceramics, textiles, and stone carvings, was produced, exchanged, and consumed over much of the Andes region of South America. Two ancient political projects lie at the heart of this phenomenon: the Wari Empire based in the Ayacucho region of Peru, and the Tiwanaku polity, on which I focus, based in the Southern Titicaca Basin region of western Bolivia. The relationship between the Middle Horizon materials and Tiwanaku’s political history presents a good case with which to examine the intersection of aesthetics and politics in an ancient state. Thus, this dissertation answers the question: what roles did the aesthetic qualities of Tiwanaku style polychrome ceramic iconography play in the construction, consolidation, and expansion of Tiwanaku, the city and state? The empirical basis of my arguments is an analysis of Tiwanaku ceramics and iconography, in which I categorized and compared various motifs and elements that appear on polychrome serving wares throughout the heartland of the polity. While I investigate the relationship between aesthetics and politics at Tiwanaku over 7 chapters, my overarching argument is that Tiwanaku style ceramics played different roles and produced different effects in different social contexts. Thus, each chapter focuses on a unique—yet interrelated—set of methodological and theoretical concerns. In the center of Tiwanaku, where megalithic monuments were the site of large-scale feasts, people consumed ceramics that were decorated with a relatively uniform iconography, indicating that solidarity by way of ‘common sense’ was constructed at these events. The diverse and elegant iconography found on ceramic vessels placed in ruling class tombs, alternatively, illustrates that the production and acquisition of skillfully crafted objects were important foundations for social power at Tiwanaku. Finally, as evidenced by their curation of Tiwanaku style vessels and their creative, playful reproductions of Tiwanaku’s iconographic canon, peoples beyond the ceremonial core of the city found pleasure in the aesthetic qualities of Tiwanaku ceramics, which drew them more deeply into Tiwanaku’s political community. The fall of the Tiwanaku state in the 12th century coincided with the end of Tiwanaku style material production, ultimately manifesting the deep relationship between the political project and its visual culture.

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