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What Once Was…: Taphonomical processes and their implications for understanding Tiwanaku funerary practices and social identities

Author(s): Sarah Baitzel

Year: 2015

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Archaeological investigations into group affiliation and status, gender and other social identities are often based on human burials and their grave goods. Once deposited burials become subject to a series of cultural and natural taphonomic processes that alter the material record. The systematic recovery of over 200 provincial Tiwanaku burials from the Middle Horizon Period (A.D.500-1000) settlement of Omo M10 in the arid Moquegua valley (southern Peru) presents a compelling case study for observing stages of looting and decomposition . The rich material record of the Omo M10 burials offers insights into the diverse uses of perishable and non-organic materials to express social constructs of status, gender, and group identity. Taking into consideration how distinct taphonomical processes impacted Tiwanaku funerary spaces and offerings both locally and regionally, I demonstrate the utility of a graded taphonomic scale in order to critically evaluate the material basis of the archaeological interpretations. Such an approach precludes the potential fallacy of directly comparing contexts site-wide or regionally that have been exposed to variable taphonomic processes, and arrives at a more cautious - albeit perhaps less wide ranging - view of Tiwanaku social identities and burial practices.

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What Once Was…: Taphonomical processes and their implications for understanding Tiwanaku funerary practices and social identities. Sarah Baitzel. Presented at The 80th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, San Francisco, California. 2015 ( tDAR id: 398024)


Geographic Keywords
South America

Spatial Coverage

min long: -93.691; min lat: -56.945 ; max long: -31.113; max lat: 18.48 ;

Arizona State University The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation National Science Foundation National Endowment for the Humanities Society for American Archaeology Archaeological Institute of America