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War, Violent Spectacle, and Political Authority in the Pre-Columbian Andes

Elizabeth Arkush, University of Virginia, Fellow 2009/10

Dumbarton Oaks has been a wonderful place to explore the interplay of warfare, violent display, and the changing nature of political authority in the pre-Columbian Andes. During the fellowship, my project reshaped itself from a synthetic history into a series of essays on specific moments in the Andean sequence, bound together by the insight that war-related iconographies and spectacles followed a trajectory that was largely independent of the intensity and frequency of warfare. My conversations with fellows and visitors have helped me gain insight and perspective.

I spent the first part of my fellowship term assembling reports of skeletal trauma to, which yielded a measurable and comparable index of the rate of interpersonal conflict among specific Andean populations. I also researched the cultural logic of violent display in the early parts of the Andean sequence, tracing how it was informed by the meaning of dead body parts and the fierceness of predatory supernaturals. More recently, I have been going through published survey reports to assess defensive settlement patterns and fortification, and pairing this with the skeletal trauma to arrive at an honest record of the threat Andeans were under in different times and places. During this fellowship, I've also had the time and mental space to take care of related publications. I made final revisions and copyedits to a book on Titicaca Basin hillforts, submitted two chapters to edited books, and wrote most of a journal article; all have to do directly or tangentially with Andean conflict and violence.

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