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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Lords of the Snowy Ranges: Politics, place, and landscape transformation in two Tairona towns in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, Colombia
by Giraldo, Santiago, Ph.D., The University of Chicago, 2010, 377; 3397290
Abstract (Summary)

The principal aim of the Lords of the Snowy Ranges Archaeological Project involved addressing the constitution of political authority among the Tairona polities of northern Colombia and its relationship to various processes of landscape transformation at the sites of Pueblito and Ciudad Perdida. More specifically, research explored the possible links between architectural space, and social and political power. One of the more striking features of Tairona architecture and settlement layout is its apparently informal, curvilinear, low-density, and spacious quality, with residential wards and ceremonial/feasting areas spread out over extremely broken, mountainous terrain. In contradistinction to most other early towns and cities studied by archaeologists in the Americas, where square or rectangular rooms along with masonry walls, corridors and doorways are used to parse out, divide, subdivide, and restrict built space, Tairona settlements make use of open terracing without walled divisions and emphasize roundness in built structures.

Thus, it has been generally assumed that higher levels of social differentiation and hierarchy in pre-Hispanic societies should manifest themselves through the creation of increasingly exclusive spaces separating different segments of the population. In contrast, the dissertation argues that the open architectural pattern found at Pueblito and Ciudad Perdida, which does not make use of walls or other physical means to parse out and subdivide space was meant to create and enhance connections across different levels of society. Networks of pathways drew in movement from outlying residential wards towards central plazas and ceremonial/feasting/political structures around which towns are organized. In this sense, publicity and connection are social and spatial values favored over exclusion and/or exclusivity as instruments for creating power and authority. Hence, it is suggested that rather than seeking to control access to spaces, Tairona elites focused on controlling movement in space. That is, there were no physical barriers impeding access to any part of a settlement, but circulation was only possible by following these networks of paved pathways and staircases. In consequence, certain forms of power and status in these societies might in fact stem from the capacity to build those paths required to reduce distances and the effort to traverse them in extremely broken terrain, following what Harvey (1990) denominates the management of friction. In so doing the dissertation offers a different perspective on how status and power may manifest themselves through open, permeable, and apparently non restrictive architectural forms.

In addition, investigations at both sites produced a wealth of new information regarding the initial settlement process of both areas, and similarities and differences in their construction sequences, showing how they were transformed in the 11th and 12th centuries AD into ceremonial and political centers. Excavations also revealed place-making practices aimed at augmenting and propitiating flows of food, drink, and wealth towards certain residential and feasting/ceremonial buildings. These practices point to the conjoined use of feasting, ceremonies, and place-making by Tairona elites as overlapping strategies for building and sustaining political authority. Thus, the dissertation also contributes towards the growing body of research on these little known polities.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Kolata, Alan L.
Commitee: Dietler, Michael, Smith, Adam T.
School: The University of Chicago
Department: Anthropology
School Location: United States -- Illinois
Source: DAI-A 71/04, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Archaeology
Keywords: Ciudad Perdida, Colombia, Landscape transformation, Pueblito, Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, Tairona, Towns
Publication Number: 3397290
ISBN: 978-1-109-69020-0
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