Ritual and Status: Mortuary Display at the Household Level at the Middle Horizon Wari Site of Conchopata , Peru

Charlene D. Milliken

PhD Thesis 2006

Using a model derived from McAnany's (1995) study of ancient Mayan ancestor veneration, this study evaluated the patterns of treatment of the dead, and corresponding sociopolitical implications, at the Middle Horizon (A.D. 500-1000) site of Conchopata, a secondary center of the Wari Empire located in Ayacucho , Peru . In addition to residential zones, public plazas, ceramic workshops, and temples, Conchopata has yielded an abundant sample of tombs and burial contexts including two multi-roomed mortuary complexes. This study explores how burial practices and mortuary complexes within domestic contexts related to ancestor veneration by high-status households.

Several types of analyses were conducted. First, 40 architectural spaces from five zones were analyzed to assess spatial variability in household status and wealth, activities, and function. Second, a multidimensional scaling analysis of 38 architectural spaces was undertaken to establish room function and identify special activities. Third, a multidimensional scaling analysis of 31 burial contexts was carried out to identify patterns within the burial population and distinguish status differences in burial treatments. Finally, architectural spaces and burial contexts were compared across zones in terms of artifact proportions and presence/absence of features and artifact types.

The results suggest that all five zones investigated were residential zones composed of high-status households. These households contained at least one room where mortuary ceremonies and rituals were conducted. Both high-status and low-status tombs were identified within the domestic domain, including a special category of infant/child burials. The practice of ancestor veneration at Conchopata was confirmed by evidence for protracted burial rites, continued interaction with the dead, and other criteria of the McAnany model.

High-status households engaged in a specific form of ancestor veneration involving continued interaction with the ancestors through offering holes and post-burial rituals. Although all high-status households engaged in similar types of deathways, two households placed considerably greater investment in activities surrounding the dead by constructing multi-roomed mortuary complexes within their residences. Overall, the type of ancestor veneration evidenced at Conchopata differs markedly from that of the Maya (in which important ancestors were flaunted) as well as from the late prehispanic chullpa and Inka practices.