Master of Arts (MA)


Geography and Anthropology

Document Type



This thesis examines ancient Andean performances from the early urban site of Caylán (800-10 cal. BCE) on the North-Central coast of Peru, Ancash. Spaces utilized for public events such as feasting, spectacles, and rituals have been a rich source of data for anthropologists looking to understand dynamics of community, power, and ideology. These spaces are also undervalued in terms of their potential multivocal qualities. During the Formative Period (1600-100 BCE), sunken plazas were the focus of a vast array of public activities and performances in ancient Peru. This thesis focuses on Formative Period public spaces as theaters of heightened interactions, and considers the shift from U-shaped temples to enclosure compounds at the end of the Formative. Research was conducted at Caylán in the lower Nepeña Valley, a large archaeological complex interpreted as the center of an emerging urban polity during the first millennium BCE The site epicenter was organized around a series of monumental enclosure compounds, each dominated by an elaborate benched plaza. One of these plazas, Plaza-A, occupied a central place within the settlement’s public landscape. Mapping and excavation operations conducted in 2009 and 2010 yielded spatial and material data to assess the essence of public landscapes as viewed through the use, organization, and perception of Plaza-A. Results indicate a spatially controlled and exclusive plaza environment, which relied on movement and manipulation of the senses to create an extraordinary public experience. Public activities included episodic spectacles involving the December Solstice, music, processions, feasts, and architecture entombment, as well as other social interactions such as craft production. I interpret multivocal usage of Plaza-A, and argue that public interactions maintained heterarchical sub-group identities in a new urban environment. My analyses highlight the role and significance of performance and public space in ancient complex societies.



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Committee Chair

Chicoine, David