Regional Settlement Patterns and Political Complexity in the Cinti Valley, Bolivia

Claudia Rivera Casanovas

PhD Thesis 2004

Traditionally, scholars investigating prehispanic Andean polities and sociopolitical organization have worked from cross-cultural models of complex societies underlain by concepts of political hierarchy and centralized control. Recently, however, some archaeologists, drawing from ethnohistorical and ethnographic sources, have argues that late prehispanic polities in various parts of the Andes were organized around principles different from those that underline traditional constructs of complex societies. The ethnohistoric evidence raises the possibility that models of political organization often used by archaeologists are not adequate to account for the development and dynamics of all prehispanic Andean polities.

Ethnohistoric sources portray structure and dynamics of the "ethnic kingdoms" as rooted in still poorly understood indigenous principles of organization featuring nested, dual socio-territorial units (ayllus), decentralized political leadership, and confederation as the basis of hierarchy. To date, there has been little study of what these polities would look like archaeologically, or how the supposedly different principles of organization would manifest themselves in regional settlement structure, wealth and status differentiation, or production and exchange patterns.

Ethnohistoric documentation for the existence of allyu polities in the Cinti region, southern Bolivia, made this area a prime setting for exploration of the archaeological ramifications of traditional and ayllu-based models. Full-scale regional survey and excavation generated data on the long-term evolution of sociopolitical structure and economic processes in the Cinti Valley. The investigation was organized around identifying strategies (economic and social) associated with political leadership, and their role in politico-economic centralization and social differentiation.

The research revealed the emergence, by A.D. 800, of a strongly integrated, regional polity, characterized by a traditional settlement hierarchy, and elite residence at a dominant center. Catchment zone analysis indicated that increasing agricultural production was most closely linked to strategies of political leadership and status differentiation.

The Cinti Valley investigation served to refine our understanding of the ayllu polity both as an archaeological model, and as a form of prehispanic political organization. Highlighting the convergence and divergence between emic constructs and empirical regional patterns should contribute to a better understanding of the nature and variability of southern Bolivian prehispanic societies, and how they should be archaeologically approached.