Sustaining Community, Sustaining State: An Archaeology of Food, Farming, and Power in the Prehispanic Moche Valley of North Coastal Peru

Dana N. Bardolph, Hirsch Postdoctoral Associate, Cornell Institute of Archaeology & Material Studies, Cornell University


Long before the Inca imperial expansion in the fourteenth century CE, ancient Andean communities had shaped truly anthropogenic environments, which both yielded their staple crops and grounded their deepest cultural values. In this presentation, I explore agricultural intensification and the role of plant foodways—fundamentally embodied in the relationships between people, their environments, and the plants that they carefully managed—in the broader history of social, political, and economic changes that took place during the consolidation of the Southern Moche State of north coastal Peru during the Early Intermediate Period (400 BCE-800 CE). Incorporating archaeobotanical, environmental, and ethnohistorical evidence, I address changes in food production, processing, and consumption over five cultural horizons to critically re-evaluate existing models of Moche sociopolitical development, from a bottom-up perspective of the laborers in rural households whose agricultural production supported the growth and florescence of this complex society. I conclude with a discussion of my current research project, which addresses similar themes in the Mississippian period Central Illinois River Valley of west-central Illinois during the eleventh and twelfth centuries CE.