Master of Arts (MA)


Geography and Anthropology

Document Type



In this thesis I examine material production, discard, and trash flow at the Early Horizon urban center of Caylán (800 – 1 cal. BC) on the Peruvian North-Central coast. Trash (or garbage, refuse, litter, or waste) is a central source of information for archaeologists examining prehistoric lifeways in Peru. Despite frequent use of trash as a source for radiocarbon samples, cultural material, and dietary evidence, few studies utilize the transportation and concentration of trash to examine human behavioral patterns. The Early Horizon, as a transitional period in Peruvian prehistory, presents an opportunity to test the utility of trash deposits in analyzing early urban lifeways. Research was conducted at Caylán in the lower Nepeña Valley, in the coastal area of the Department of Ancash, Peru. Caylán is interpreted as a large urban center and the focus of an emerging polity during the Early Horizon (900 – 200 BC). Caylán’s architectural core is comprised of a series of walled house compounds built from mortar and stone. Each architectural complex appears centered around a monumental communal plaza, as well as adjacent patios preliminarily interpreted as areas of production and residence. Excavations during the 2009 and 2010 field seasons included 6 excavation areas, 16 test pits, and the clearing of one looter’s pit, which were placed to sample the diversity of architectural structures and associated material remains. Mapping operations provided spatial information to examine the layout of the urban core. I examine the contents of the test units to explore the distribution of trash across different functional contexts at Caylán. I compare spatial contexts, including streets, corridors, plazas, patios, and open-air areas outside the walled compounds, and refuse densities within and between contexts. Results indicate a complex series of behavioral patterns that comprise the production, use, and discard of artifacts and food remains across the city. Manufacture of finished goods occurred in the house compounds, indicating a household economy with little centralized organization. However, refuse accumulation also centers around commonly accessible areas. The utilization of large amounts of trash as infill for episodic rebuilding indicates at least some level of cooperative organization among households. I argue that the material evidence points toward the existence of a household-based economy with competitive, non-specialized production, as well as a centralized leadership complex enough to regulate discard, but not production.



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Committee Chair

Chicoine, David