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Beyond Descent and Affinity: Rethinking the Inca Royal Ayllus as a “House Society”

Isabel Yaya McKenzie, Laboratoire d’anthropologie sociale, Paris, Summer Fellow 2018–2019

My research project was to revisit central assumptions about the Inca social and spatial organization in Cuzco through an analysis of the royal corporate groups. With a view to critically testing the model of “house society” in the context of ancient Cuzco, I focused on documenting the social and ritual practices described in the Spanish chronicles whereby individual membership in noble factions was constructed through time. Access to the Dumbarton Oaks collection was crucial to spur progress on this study as it provided a wide documentary base to cross-examine the narrative cycles on the activities of royal ayllus and to access archaeological data on royal residences and estates. I also explored a broad literature on “house societies” in Mesoamerica, which provided materials for a comparative analysis and helped refine the conceptual framework of this study. This research also greatly benefited from exposure to the critical review of the institution’s permanent and short-term scholars who create the rich scientific environment of the Pre-Columbian Studies program.