HOWARD TSAI, U-M Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies
Howard Tsai is lecturer at the Center for Latin American & Caribbean Studies at the University of Michigan. He directed the excavation of Las Varas, an 11th-century village in northern Peru, as part of his investigation of prehistoric interaction, exchange, and ethnicity in the chaupiyunga zone of the Jequetepeque Valley. The results of his work at Las Varas will be published in his upcoming book Las Varas: Ethnic Groups and Boundaries in the Ancient Andes.
Issues of ethnicity have tremendous political and cultural force in the modern era, mobilizing armies and artists, shaping laws and policies, fashioning tastes and styles. But can the same be said for a distant era, before the development of writing and the emergence of European nation-states? The archaeological excavation of Las Varas, a site located in northern Peru dating to AD 1000, has shed light on how Andeans perceived differences between communities and constructed boundaries around their settlement. The construction of ethnic differences is not a natural outcome of human social existence, but the result of deliberate cultural and, in the case of Las Varas, ritual practices.