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Abstract

This dissertation comprises an interdisciplinary study combining archaeological and historical research to investigate the various ways the past is understood, codified, communicated, and made socially relevant and politically instrumental in the interactions between local groups and expansive polities. The research is focused on the central Peruvian area of Huarochirí (ca. AD 1400-1700). Huarochirí has been of unique importance to our understanding of the indigenous Andean past because of its early seventeenth-century Quechua document, the only Andean book about indigenous religion and mythology written in an indigenous language during the Spanish Colonial period. The manuscript is a collection of descriptions of indigenous rituals and narratives relating conditions and happenings in mythic and historic times, brought about through the deeds of superhuman beings (huacas)–their martial and romantic conquests, ground-shaking and shaping movements, and dealings with human individuals and groups. Long treated as something of a surrogate primary historical source on the prehispanic Andes (for which there are no currently legible written sources), for many scholars the manuscript reveals an indigenous Andean cosmos otherwise hidden or lost. And indeed the text’s manifest leitmotif is the superation of worlds past by worlds present–an historical etiology of its narrators’ place in space and time. However, until recently, systematic archaeology of the manuscript’s center has been virtually non-existent, in part because the manuscript and text-based reconstructions of Huarochirí’s history and prehistory have gained broad acceptance as de facto explanations of the region’s past. In effect, this assent amounts to a “canonical (pre)history” wherein the recognition of explicitly posited chronological events and processes particular to Huarochirí results also in ratification and perpetuation of implicit historiographic assumptions about causality, representation, agency, temporality, and universal human motivations. Stratigraphic, architectural, artefactual data, and radiocarbon dates from nine months of intensive archaeological fieldwork in the manuscript’s central area and eleven months of laboratory analyses, together with archival research and critical readings of published historical texts provide the foundation for revisions of Huarochirí’s history, historiography, and the temporal and historical sensibilities of the indigenous of Haurochirí, their Andean contemporaries, and the Spanish as integral parts of the period’s imperial expansions. I argue that, while indeed uniquely revelatory, the manuscript also obscures a variety of culturally distinct practices and principles of “past making,” or meaningfully interacting with and legitimizing the past, an obfuscation exacerbated by the historical reconstructions mentioned above. The archaeological data suggest that, contrary to the claims of the manuscript’s narrators, their ancestors did not conquer their ceremonial center from aboriginal lowlanders. But instead of being the close of a ground-truthing exercise, this opens a much more interesting, complex, and ultimately informative inquiry into the apparent discrepancy in representations of a collective past at different times via different media. The archaeological data and textual evidence from Huarochirí and beyond elicit interpretations of the performative semioses and related practices and media involved in the ongoing interactions between pasts and presents. More broadly, performatives prove ideal for the combined study of culture and history because their power is to make new collective realities, but only to the degree that their form and substance are cogent within extant social, cultural, and historical contexts. For Huarochiranos, the past was not a foreign country, but rather made, and was made in, spatial, geographic, and hierarchical but complementary socio-political and ritual relations. Ultimately, I provide archaeological data that give us a firm grasp on Huarochirí’s chronological history. But doing so is the very means to relativizing temporal and historical sensibilities in general: those of indigenous Andeans, Spanish Colonial clerics, and modern, social scientific history–one of our own modes of meaningful and legitimate interaction with the past.

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