Late Pre-Hispanic Chiefdoms of Highland Ecuador: Bray

Bray, Tamara L. “Late Pre-Hispanic Chiefdoms of Highland Ecuador.” In The Handbook of South American Archaeology, 527–44. New York: Springer, 2008.

Tamara Bray contributed this chapter to The Handbook of South American Archaeology, edited by Helaine Silverman and William Isbell, surveying the three major socio-political regions of the early Ecuadorian Andes: the Caranqui, Puruha, and Cañari, who occupied the intermontane basins in the north, central, and south, respectively.

According to Bray, sometime around 800 BP, the populations of these different basins began to organize into more “complex forms of sociopolitical organization” that challenge traditional ethnographic notions of vertical hierarchy, she says (527). By the time of the Incan conquest, these societies had formed what Bray refers to as a “heterarchy” of decentralized but highly complex societies (535). This is an important point often lost in current ethnohistorical research that overwhelming focuses on the Incan period at the expense of other Andean societies.

Bray highlights the ecological differences in the northern Andes and its relatively narrower geography, which provided access to multiple elevation zones within a short distance as compared to areas further south (527). The chapter also examines pre-Incan agriculture and long-distance exchange practices, settlement patterns, product specialization, and the burial treatments of the three regions. While some social stratification existed between elites, commoners, and captives, regional hierarchies appear to have reflected more of a first among equals dynamic, which Bray describes as a “history of shifting alliances, constant conflicts, and permeability of boundaries” (530).

N. H. Gill
Quito, 2020

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