I Theoretical and methodological approaches to the study of the ancient Andean states

Previous research on the ancient Andean states in Peru

Andean archaeology is a result of the collaboration between a diverse group of foreign and national researchers throughout its history. Because scientific archaeology was created in other “more developed” countries and imported into the Andes, there were a number of theories, concepts, categories, and methods that prejudiced our way of explaining indigenous archaeological phenomena.

As expected, the study of ancient pre-Hispanic states has not been exempted from these conceptual and methodological problems. Therefore, a brief account of this process in reference to the pre-Hispanic Andes is warranted.

It is also important to mention that although in recent decades there has been an effort to adapt foreign theories and concepts in archaeological explanations, an assessment of their relevance to the Andean situation is still needed. Because the archaeology' that takes place in the Andes is fundamentally prehistoric, it is difficult for us to understand Andean societies in their own terms.

Beyond the historical sources of the colonial era that refer to the Inca political institutions and some immediately prior to the expansion of their Empire, we cannot know how ancient people conceived of their own political formations from an emic (indigenous) perspective (Trigger 2003: 62). Obviously, there must have been a pre-Hispanic ontology and philosophy to all matters in life, including their own history. Only with the help of ethnohistory, ethnography, and anthropology is it possible to understand some elements of that precolonial perspective. However, as we shall see, the concept and political category of the state still are necessary to explain political phenomena, especially if we understand that the existence of states is a universal human institution.

This chapter will summarize the main theories, concepts, and methods used in the study of pre-Hispanic states in the Central Andes. Here we will point out the different proposals put forward by the most prominent scholars and researchers, understanding that they start from their own historical context and their conceptions of this social phenomenon.

The study of ancient states in the pre-Hispanic Andes

The first ethnohistorical observations of Europeans give us a good glimpse in the way that indigenous South Americans defined their own political forms. After these initial and relatively unfiltered observations, however, European intellectuals and political leaders began to “translate” these observed realities to suit their own agenda. As we will see here, understanding native indigenous political forms is problematic given the lack of precolonial written sources. We will also see how, as hegemonic visions developed in the study of human societies, they established what were the characteristics or dynamics through which societies pass. Although the authors maintain an implicit or explicit theoretical position with respect to the state, their proposals often share elements of different theories, especially the researchers who managed to escape the orthodoxy of some epistemologies.

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