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Head Extraction, Interregional Exchange, and Political Strategies of Control at the Site of Wata Wata, Kallawaya Territory, Bolivia, During the Transition between the Late Formative and Tiwanaku Periods (A.D. 200-800)

  • Sara K. Becker (a1) and Sonia Alconini (a2)

This study focuses on trophy head taking during the transition between the Late Formative period and Tiwanaku period (A.D. 200-800) based on evidence from a dedicatory offering found at the site of Wata Wata, east of the Titicaca Basin. Although trophy-head taking was common in other precontact Andean cultures, evidence of the practice among cultures from this region is usually present only in iconography and not in actual physical remains. We explore the nature of this find and its placement within the trade and ceremonial center of Wata Wata. The three individuals included in the offering underwent various levels of violence at or around the time of death, including beheading, cranial and facial fracturing, defleshingjaw removal, and possible eye extraction. Such violence makes it unlikely that the heads were offered as part of a cult to revere ancestors. We argue that these heads, entombed in a ritual cache and sealed with a capstone, embody a strategic metaphor to remove authority and influence from the individuals, because skulls can be Andean symbols of power in life and the afterlife. The violent acts carried out on these crania may also have been a way to advertise broader changes during this transitional period in the Kallawaya region, a strategic exchange corridor between ecological zones in the Central Andes.


Esta investigatioón se enfoca en entender las prácticas de decapitatión durante la transición Formativo Tardío a Tiwanaku (200-800 d.C), sobre la base del estudio de una ofrenda con tres cráneos humanos encontrados en el sitio de Wata Wata. El mismo se ubica en los valles del territorio Kallawaya, al oriente de la cuenca del Titicaca. Aunque el uso de cabezas trofeo es común en las culturas Andinas durante elperiodo pre-Colombino, en Tiwanaku dicho uso se restringe a su iconografía. La evidencia física sobre esta práctica es muy escasa. En este contexto, en este trabajo exploramos la naturaleza de esta ofrenda en el centro ceremonial y de intercambio de Wata Wata. Este estudio muestra los altos niveles de violencia a la que fueron sujetos los individuos alrededor ojusto al momento de su muerte, incluyendo decapitatión, fracturas craneales y faciales, descarne, remoción de las mandíbulas y posiblemente extractión ocular. For tanto, estos marcados niveles de violencia hacen inviable que esta práctica haya estado asociada a un culto de reverencia a los ancestros. Más bien, consideramos que estos cráneos enterrados en una ofrenda ritual que posteriormente fuera sellada, fueron parte de una metáfora ritual destinada a quitar autoridad e influencia política. Al respecto, en los Andes, los crdneos son considerados potentes simbolos de poder tanto en esta vida como en el más allá. Por tanto, los niveles de violencia infringidos a estos cráneos, pudieron haber servido de propaganda durante esta crítica transitión Formativo Tardío-Tiwanaku en la región Kallawaya, un estratégico corredor de intercambio inter-ecológico en los Andes Centrales.

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Latin American Antiquity
  • ISSN: 1045-6635
  • EISSN: 2325-5080
  • URL: /core/journals/latin-american-antiquity
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