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Decentralized Ceramic Production and the Inka Imperial Economy (Cuzco, Perú)

Date and Time: 
Monday, November 9, 2020. 12:00 PM
Meeting Location: 
Zoom
Workshop: 
Standardization in Ancient Economies 2020
Meeting Description: 

The Inka empire of the South American Andes (ca. 1400-1530s CE) has been cast as an exceptional economic case: that this was the largest indigenous empire of the Americas yet there were few of the trappings of market-based economies necessary for such growth. Inka economic strategies were shaped by the need to coerce a multiethnic populace that paid taxes in labor and by the management of competing political factions’ financial interests. Researchers previously presumed that there was a state-controlled ceramic workshop operating on principles of efficiency in the imperial capital of Cusco. Such top-down control might entail standardization of all aspects of technological style, which is not observed archaeologically. Dr. Kylie Quave assesses the archaeological evidence for decentralized, small-scale production of this prestige good. Quave hypothesizes that imperial pottery was produced following principles of visual standardization but in dispersed loci controlled by political factions. Quave describes the limits of that standardization, as visual elements of Inka pottery appear to be tightly controlled and uniform, yet geochemical research thus far has indicated heterogeneity in clay and temper sourcing. Quave then evaluates the motivations for decentralized ceramic production within a society that used those objects to promote the appearance of a unified heartland that never materialized.

Kylie Quave is an assistant professor of writing and of anthropology at George Washington University in Washington, DC. As an anthropological archaeologist studying imperialism and colonialism in the South American Andes, she brings together excavations of rural villages with archival documents and archaeometric analysis of material culture. Her interests are in identity formation, social and economic inequalities, and incorporating pluralistic perspectives on the past. Currently, she is collaborating on the “Fragments of an Imperial Economy” project, which takes previously excavated pottery collections in the Cuzco region of Peru and seeks to categorize attributes of technological style to reconstruct Inka imperial economic transformations. Her work has been published recently in Journal of Anthropological Archaeology, Advances in Archaeological Practice, International Journal of Historical Archaeology, and Qillqana: Revista arqueológica del Cusco.

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