Introduction: why and how to study the ancient Andean states

Why study the ancient Andean states

Important comparative researchers1 have used the Andean states as case studies in their monumental effort to discover the common elements in the emergence of complex societies throughout the world. In many instances, one can find that these sweeping and impressive studies often lack some important archaeological data. This is understandable given the nature of grand, comparative studies, where scholars use a fragmentary database to build these large metanarratives. But it also requires us to dig deeper into the details of these ancient polities for richer, more focused narratives about individual societies. Likewise, there is an overreliance on states such as the Inca because of the rich ethnohistorical and even first-person accounts that are available.

Given this, it is important to note that in the first instance virtually all researchers concur that indigenous, large, and impressive state societies developed in the Pre-Hispanic Andes on their own without outside influence (Steward and Faron 1959; Service 1975; Haas 1982; Stanish 2001a, 2001b; Flannery and Marcus 2012, among others). In spite of the fact that the very category “state” has a Western lineage and there exists a literature questioning its intellectual utility, one can derive a minimal definition of this term and use it to compare the Andes with other areas of the world. I will address this directly in Chapter 3. More important, however, we see that some social phenomena associated with state development are shared by all of humanity. This observation was recognized early on (e.g., see Service 1975). At the same time, the Andean states have unique features that were products of their own historical development, as seen in the material record of the region.

Therefore, the study of the pre-Hispanic Andean States is fundamentally important to (1) trace the particular nature of the various states that arose in this part of the world and (2) use these data to make comparisons with other states for archaeology, anthropology, and comparative history.

This book therefore aims to at least achieve the first objective by presenting cases of Andean state societies and describing their rich historical developments. I strive to achieve a dialogue between the comparative vision of theoreticians at the global level and the inherent theoretical and methodological constraints with local analyses using Andean conceptions that help us understand the uniqueness of these societies. The challenge is not only methodological but ontological.

This distinction between local and global perspectives permeates this book. The comparative, metanarrative style makes up for gaps in data via inference from general principles. This leads to researchers explaining Andean states (or any other region) using concepts from other case studies or from these principles. This likewise unfortunately can decontextualize the individual cultures, particularly when the case studies must be “harmonized” with any author’s theoretical presumptions.

My goal is to invert this situation by presenting evidence that we actually have in hand, explaining the ancient Andean states in their own right. In sum, I use an Andean perspective to understand the Andean data. Of course, such a goal implies additional philosophical goals and challenges.

The ontological and epistemological challenges of studying the state in the Andes

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