Provincial life in the Inca empire: Continuity and change at Pulapuco, Peru

Sarah Jane Abraham
Dept. of Anthropology, University of California, Santa Barbara
July, 2010


Shifts in anthropological theory have led archaeologists to re-evaluate longheld interpretations of ancient empires and the nature of imperial-provincial relationships. Influenced by social theory and postcolonial studies, recent approaches investigate the experiences of conquered peoples and interactions between commoners, local elites, and imperial administrators. Though rarely mentioned in historical accounts, incorporated populations were an integral part of the expansionist state and are crucial in developing a more comprehensive understanding of empires. This dissertation assesses the imperial-provincial relationship between the Inca empire (AD 1438-1532) and the Lucanas peoples of the south-central highlands of Peru. Archaeological investigations were conducted at the principal Lucanas site of Pulapuco in Ayacucho, Peru to evaluate Inca imperialism at the local level, including (1) the nature of imperial control in this province; (2) local uses of imperial material culture as well as the co-option of Inca symbols; and (3) the role of state ideology at the local level, including how it was materialized at Pulapuco. Due to the lack of prior archaeological studies in this region, this research also was also tasked in documenting Lucanas material culture. Fieldwork consisted of excavations, architectural survey and analysis, and artifact analysis. Based on data from the archaeological and historical record, this dissertation argues that the Inca ruled the Lucanas province indirectly through local elite, who used imperial symbols to demonstrate their connection in the empire. Data also suggest that both elite and commoners adopted imperial symbols and incorporated them into their lives, modifying their original meaning in the process. Finally, this dissertation proposes that the Inca and local elite used state ideology to legitimize their authority. This research contributes to more holistic views of the Inca empire and serves as a cross-cultural example local responses to imperialism. It is part of an emergent body of research that redirects focus from the rulers to the ruled and to "alternative" histories of empire that holds important implications for anthropological and historical studies of imperialism, colonialism, and culture contact.