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Georgia Journal of Science

Article Title

DIGGING DEEP WITH A PHOTON SHOVEL: ELEMENTAL ANALYSIS OF ANCIENT ANDEAN CERAMICS

Abstract

In the pre-Hispanic Andes, ceramic pottery served utilitarian, ritual, and political roles. During the era of Tiwanaku state authority (the Middle Horizon, circa AD 500-1000), ceramic vessels were produced in specialized workshops and traded between the Tiwanaku heartland in Bolivia to Tiwanaku outposts, including those in the Moquegua valley, some 300km to the southwest. However, Archaeological data suggests that when the Tiwanaku state collapsed (circa AD 1000), post-collapse communities in the Moquegua Valley had reduced access to imported ceramic materials. Furthermore, increased heterogeneity in the composition of locally produced pottery has been documented in Moquegua Valley ceramics during the two centuries after the collapse of the Tiwanaku state, suggesting that ceramic production shifted to less centralized workshops (Sharratt et al, 2015). The existing research into the impact of Tiwanaku state collapse on ceramic production and trade is based on a small sample of ceramic sherds, all from funerary contexts at one site. This sample was analyzed for elemental composition using Laser Ablation Induction-Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry (LA-ICP-MS), a minimally-destructive process which required the export of ceramic samples to the United States. With an REU grant from the National Science Foundation, I was able to travel to Peru in 2017 to collect additional data on the elemental composition of over 200 ceramic fragments from two post-Tiwanaku Moquegua Valley refugee civilizations. As an alternative to LA-ICP-MS, I was able to utilize a handheld portable X-Ray Fluorescence instrument (pXRF) in Peru, to obtain an elemental profile for each sherd or vessel. Significantly, this sample is not only larger than in the earlier study but comes from a range of contexts (funerary, domestic, and ritual) from two different sites (Tumilaca la Chimba and Santa Rita la Chica). In this poster, I draw on the robust data set derived from my pXRF analyses to test the hypotheses that 1) post-collapse communities had limited access to imported ceramic material, and instead relied upon local clay sources for the majority of ceramic production and 2) that ceramic production became less standardized in the communities of Tumilaca la Chimba and Santa Rita la Chicha respectively than during the height of state authority, as production shifted from centralized workshops to household or individual contexts. I also explore the compositional data to identify patterns in production related to the context and site from which pottery was recovered.

Acknowledgements

GSU Department of Anthropology

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