The first scientific explanations of the state: the evolutionist perspectives of the late-nineteenth-and early-twentieth-century archaeology

Evolutionism was the first widely accepted modern scientific explanation about nature and related phenomena. (There were other theories, such as Lamarckian evolution, that were current as well.) Charles Darwin’s landmark publication was a turning point in the intellectual climate of the time (Darwin 2008 [1859]). The theory of descent with modification via natural selection was so powerful that it permeated the social sciences as well as the biological ones.

Prior to Darwin by at least a decade, Herbert Spencer also developed a theory of evolution based on substantially different principles (Harris 1996). Spencers “evolutionary philosophy” argued that all human societies had passed or would go through a series of evolutionary stages from simpler to more complex societies economically and politically. This was quite distinct from Darwinian evolution, which did not see any progress or teleology' in evolutionary sequences.

Spencerian theory was a form of unilinear evolutionism and was inspired by the ethnographic observations of dozens of native and modern societies. Lewis Morgan was particularly influential in the development of this body of theory (Morgan 1877). Morgan was particularly influential on Friedrich Engels, who likewise proposed a unilineal theory of social evolution, though based on different principles than Spencer (Engels 2017 [1884]). In general, however, these non-Darwinian but evolutionary theories viewed the state as the most evolved phase of a unilinear scheme. Material achievements, especially technological ones, were what differentiated more developed societies from others.

These evolutionary theories were largely developed in Europe, though Lewis Morgan, an American banker, was quite influential. Countries like the United States quickly adopted these ideas, and unilineal evolutionary theory' became popular in different academic and lay circles as the principal scientific explanation of the development of humanity (Hinsley and Wilcox 2016).

In that sense, one of the earliest visions of pre-Hispanic Andean societies derived from Max Uhle’s work, which was influenced by the social evolutionism of the late nineteenth century' but tempered by the cultural emphasis that had previously developed in central Europe (Rowe 1954). Regardless of these varied influences, Uhle proposed the existence of primitive societies and high civilizations in what was an inherently progressive, unilineal evolutionary scheme in all but name (Uhle 1900).

Thus, the theme of the prehistoric state has been central in the canon of Peruvian archaeology since the twentieth century. It began with some weak evolutionary' theories of the late nineteenth century' comparing Andean societies to abstract notions of “civilization,” as we shall later see. In the twentieth century, Rafael Larco Hoyle developed the idea of pre-Hispanic states (Larco Hoyle 2001 [1938]). His proposal of the Moche as a first state is important, although his vision was still inspired by that of modern nation-states. The material evidence came from the excavations of sumptuous tombs and sites with monumental architecture. Also, at the beginning of that same century the existence of large private and privatearchaeological collections led to the creation of the first museums that reinforced the focus on ancient states.

Historians also attempted to define the development of pre-Hispanic societies using documentary sources. Many of these studies adopted the evolutionary philosophy current in European intellectual circles. For example, Horacio Urteaga translated and published many early ethnohistorical sources. These early colonial sources provided a glimpse into the form of political and economic organization of precolonial societies, especially the Incas.

The cultural historical framework in the study of the state in the first half of the twentieth century

Although the cultural historical concept, and its related idea of culture area, has its roots in the European academy of the nineteenth century, especially in Germany, it was the work of Franz Boas that made it the dominant concept in anthropology, especially in the Americas (Boas 1911; Trigger 2006: 219). The cultural historical concept was disseminated from the most important universities in the United States. Alfred Kroeber, a student of Boas who worked with materials from the Uhle collections at the University of California at Berkeley and excavated in Peru, was one of the main drivers of this perspective in the Andes (Heaney 2018).

While the use of the culture concept began with Max Uhle and a few other foreign researchers, it was the Peruvian archaeologist Julio C. Tello who introduced it into the academic mainstream in Peru (Tello 1921; Heaney 2018). The idea in political terms is that an archaeological culture resembles a contemporary nationstate (Trigger 2006: 17). It expands through the carriers of material culture, dominating or influencing new regions and peoples. For archaeology, the evidence was found in remains such as architecture and ceramics. The ideas of Rafael Larco Hoyle (2001 [1938], 2001 [ 1939|) also rested on this vision with respect to the Moche.

With cultural historicism, the idea of diffusion from a center of origin became very popular. In fact, Julio C. Tello used this proposal when he tried to explain the existence of a “Megalithic Empire” that had spread from Chavin de Huäntar (Tello 1943). In all these studies, museum collections and excavations of archaeological contexts were the main source of data such as those on the north coast and the sierra, including the site of Chavin de Huäntar. The archaeological surveys that were carried out, like that of Tello and his disciples, allowed scholars to generate maps of cultures and their respective diffusion through time. The development of ceramic sequences and typologies allowed these comparisons. The generation of chronological schemes based on the Horizon concept, proposed most forcefully by Uhle in the late nineteenth century, became the conceptual cornerstone of archaeological reconstructions in the Andes.

Only with the work of Wendell Bennett since the 1930s and, especially, with those of Gordon Willey in the Virü Valley in the Peruvian north coast at the beginning of the 1940s, a scientific methodology was developed in Peruvian archaeology (Bennett 1939; Willey 1953). Besides, these new advances in archaeological methodology supported new theories about the existence and development of pre-Hispanic states. Although evolutionary elements still existed, culture remained the main element in the explanations of the distributions of archaeological elements throughout the territory.

In the same decade of 1940, Julian Steward and Leslie White transformed the dominant framework created by Boas and his students, including Kroeber and even Tello, for a new vision inspired by late-nineteenth-century evolutionism. This new and less orthodox kind of evolutionary theory was to be known as neoevolutionism.

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