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Bermann (1997) provides a model useful for describing “vertical social ties” that considers the nature, intensity, and degree of directness of the ties. Bermann’s descriptive model details questions that we might ask regarding the “nature of ties”, such as, “What kinds of connections (economic, political, social, religious or a combination) existed between individual households and the larger system?” Considering “intensity” of “vertical social ties”, Bermann indicates the importance of detailing “How strong or frequently expressed was the household’s relationship with the center or overarching system. Finally, the “degree of directness” of ties, according to Bermann, begs questions like, “Did individual households deal directly with ruling political systems or centers, or was their interaction primarily indirect, for example, through local leaders or local centers.” Bermann’s three concepts may be fruitfully used to describe the “vertical ties” that connected individual Nasca families with Nasca central institutions.

Cahuachi, a Nasca monumental center founded in AD 1, and reached its zenith approximately 300 A.D. to 500 A.D. The Cahuachi site consists of forty platform mounds covering 150 hectares. A great temple, thirty meters high, with seven terraces materially yielded lots of panpipe fragments and drums, non-domestic refuse (seventy percent of pottery is decorated serving ware), exotic feathers, evidence of llama sacrifice, and remains of guinea pigs suggesting some sort of divinatory function. Unit 19, the “room of the posts”, located at the base of a platform mound, dates to the Nazca IV period, and features a low, raised mudbrick platform altar in the room’s center, plastered walls with large niches. Huarango wood posts more or less surround the altar. Four basins were found filled with edible Huarango pods and seeds, along with exotic spondylus shell from coastal Ecuadorian sources. The posts themselves feature effigies with faces playing pan pipes, which may have represented ancestral spirits. In the late Nasca period, the “room of the posts” was abandoned and apparently ritually “decommissioned”, by being filled with clean, non-local sand. Offerings, including 16 whole pots, hundreds of pottery fragments, backstrap looms, maize, cotton, gourd rattles, and blue painted chili peppers, were then placed in the sand. (Course Notes, Fall, 2007)

Silverman and Prouix interprets the presence of huarango wood, seeds and pods as suggesting that chicha production took place in the “room of the posts”, and that Cahuachi was the focus of periodic group rituals, and that the small rooms there were for storage of goods being kept for ceremonial use by these various groups. Silverman and Prouix also observe that given the small amount of trash (“like what we see when the fair is over”), it is likely that people were not residing permanently at Cahuachi. Mosely (2001) is in substantive agreement with Silverman and Prouix, arguing that Cahuachi ceremonial platforms differ in size and detail because each kin group using Cahuachi built their own mound complex. For Mosely, this evidence suggests that there was no overarching political state present for the Nasca (Mosely, 2001). For Silverman, Cahuachi represents ceremonial affiliations of polities with a spiritual central place (Silverman and Prouix, 2003). Silverman (1990a, cited by Prouix, 2006) observes that Nasca “lines” or geoglyphs may connect the Cahuachi ceremonial center through the Pampa de San to the large Nasca Ventilla settlement.

Vaughn (1998) surveyed, through the archaeological record, household life in the Nasca village at Marcaya. Vaughn noted wealth differences in house sizes, so that an elite presence is determined even for this very small village. Also, Vaughn observes that all households, regardless of relative social status, used fineware or painted polychrome vessels in their everyday activities, suggesting to her that society at Marcaya was relatively egalitarian, or that polychrome pottery is not such a prestige good as had been formerly argued, and that its presence in all of the Marcaya houses does not mean it is insignificant. Vaughn argues, rather, that it is the pottery’s use which makes it important. All of the household items at Marcaya were produced exclusively at Marcaya, except for the polychrome vessels, “which were produced exclusively at Cahuachi”, (Course Notes, Fall, 2007).

Vaughn posits that the use of decorated pottery in domestic contexts serves to “tie” households to distant sacred settings, reinforcing Cahuachi’s “ties” to the sacred order. The actual mechanism for the establishment of these “vertical social ties” at Cahuachi occurred with Nasca elites traveling to Cahuachi for ceremonies, then returning home to their villages with polychrome vessels. The elites would hold, small, local level feasts, which served to establish the position of elites as intermediaries between the natural and supernatural. The frequent use of polychrome vessels serves to reinforce Nasca ideology at the Marcaya household level, and to communicate to illiterate “peasants” the intricacies of Nasca religion as practiced at the ceremonial center at Cahuachi (Course Notes, Fall, 2007).

Using Bermann’s descriptive model and the archaeological evidence from Silverman’s excavation at Cahuachi, and from Vaughn’s survey at Marcaya, to define the existence and nature of “vertical social ties” at Marcaya to the Nasca elite through the ritual/ceremonial site of Cahuachi demonstrates for Bermann’s first descriptor, the “nature of ties”, that such ties, given Silverman’s revised position that Cahuachi was an unoccupied “common use” ceremonial center at the heart of Nasca religious and/or ideological confederation, and not associated with formal compliance to an overarching Nasca political state.

Examining the evidence from Cahuachi and Marcaya in light of Bermann’s second descriptor, “intensity” of ties, shows that Marcaya, with pottery fineware distributed at all levels of elite and non-elite households, all produced at Cahuachi with marked aspects of representations of Nasca ideology, suggests to me a very high “intensity” of “vertical social ties”.

Finally, considering the “ties” between Cahuachi and Marcaya using Bermann’s third descriptor, “directness of ties”, shows that ties between “common” households at Marcaya, and Nasca elites were fairly indirect, with Marcaya elites deriving power and status in their capacities as intermediaries or “middlemen” between commoners at Marcaya, and the religiously based confederation of non-Marcaya Nasca elites.

References Cited

Bermann, Marc; 1997, Domestic Life and Vertical
Integration in the Tiwanaku Heartland;
Latin American Antiquity, Vol. 8,
No. 2.

Mosely, M., 2001, (Revised Edition), Incas and
Their Ancestors.

Prouix, D., 2006, Nasca an Overview.

Silverman & Prouix, 2002.

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