Daily life and the development of the state in the Moche Valley of north coastal Peru: A bioarchaeological analysis

Celeste Marie Gagnon
Dept. of Anthropology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
August, 2006


In this dissertation the author explores what could be learned about the development of social inequality from a small-scale analysis. The people on whom the author focuses inhabited the Moche valley of north coastal of Perand were one of the earliest New World groups to develop a state-level political organization (Bawden 1996; Billman 1996; Moseley 1992). Prior to this development, Moche valley residents lived in societies that were far less politically centralized and socially differentiated. The author uses bioarchaeological data to investigate changes in the activities of prehistoric, north coastal Peruvians. The author interprets patterns of change in daily activities within the wider archaeological context and in light of other studies of state societies to explore how people, through their daily actions, effected and reflected large-scale economic, social, and political change.

To address these issues, the remains of 750 individuals recovered from Cerro Oreja, a large prehistoric urban center in the Moche valley of Perwere examined. Cerro Oreja was continuously occupied from the beginning of irrigation agriculture through the formation of the Southern Moche state (1800 BC--AD 400), and residents buried their dead in the site's cemeteries throughout this period (Carcelen personal comm 1999). The remains of the individuals who are the subject of this study represent women, men, and children of both high and low status.

The author examined each of these individual for dental caries, wear, abscesses, periodontal disease, antemortem tooth loss, and dental trauma. Additionally, the bones and teeth of several individuals were sampled for stable isotopic and dental calculus analyses. These data provide evidence to reconstruct diet and non-dietary tooth use at Cerro Oreja. However, these data are combined with the age-at-death and sex estimations and social status assessments, to trace agricultural intensification, chicha consumption, craft specialization, and coca use in the Moche valley. These findings revealed that although increased agricultural production, chicha consumption, and access to coca were important loci of pre-state social and political change, gender was the central axis along which these changes occurred. By expanding existing gender differences, elites created the social hierarchies that came to characterize the Southern Moche state.