Master of Arts (MA)


Geography and Anthropology

Document Type



This thesis focuses on the social identity of the individuals buried at a Late Middle Sicán (A.D. 1050-1120) mass grave designated Matrix 101. Matrix 101 is located in the Great Plaza of the Pomac forest archaeological complex in the La Leche Valley, north coast of Peru. My objectives are threefold: (1) to understand the social identities of the individuals, (2) to examine the complex mortuary practices that took place during the construction of the burial, and (3) to infer socio-political reasons for the construction of Matrix 101 and to see how they might relate to the Sicán societal collapse. Initial excavations were conducted during the summer of 2011 by the National Sicán Museum led by José Pinilla with later participation from the Lambayeque Valley Biohistory Project, led by Dr. Haagen Klaus. During the summers of 2012 and 2013, I participated in the excavation of the interments and collected osteological data. These data are the foundation of this thesis which revolves around the mortuary rituals performed at Matrix 101 and the social identity ascribed to the interred individuals through material, performative, and symbolic aspects. I combine bioarchaeological, taphonomic, and mortuary archaeological techniques, allowing for a holistic approach to the burials. Furthermore, I utilize a comparative data set of over 300 Middle/Late Sicán burials from the published literature to answer questions revolving around social identity. Spatial analysis of burial depths led to the conclusion that Matrix 101 was constructed in three associated phases where three groups of individuals were interred. Body positions, grave goods, and present frequencies of biological stress allow for social identity of the deceased to be constructed. I argue that these individuals represent elite to middle elite individuals from Late Middle (A.D. 1050-1120) Sicán society whose identities were transformed through death. Based on evidence that Matrix 101 occurred in association with an El Niño event, I infer that Matrix 101 was a mass sacrificial context that was created as a crisis-ritual event. I conclude that Matrix 101 provides clues in understanding the abandonment of the Sicán religious precinct and the eventual demise of Sicán society. This research sheds light on Sicán mortuary practices and the events involved in Sicán’s political collapse. More broadly, the research brings insights into the relationships between death rituals and politics in Andean civilizations.



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Committee Chair

Chicoine, David