Using pre-Columbia Andean South American as a case study, Elizabeth Arkush and Charles Stanish of UCLA further the archaeological debate on the significance of warfare in societal development by re-examining current interpretations of the evidence of ritualized and defensive conflict in the ancient Andes.
Through their research, Arkush and Stanish propose that the incorrect interpretation of defensive architecture, ceremonial activity, and ritualized conflict has led previous scholars to discard warfare as an explanation or recast it as non-serious "ritual battle." In an article that appears in the February 2005 issue of Current Anthropology, Arkush and Stanish argue that this misinterpretation has lead to an overly peaceful vision of the Andean past.
Counterexamples from societies documented in ethnography and history demonstrate that defensive walls may have features that seem counterintuitive to the modern scholar, that sites may be both ceremonial and defensive, and that ritualized warfare may devastate populations and cause political change. Further, while a special form of ritual battle has existed for centuries in the Andes, it is often used inappropriately as an analogy for pre-Columbian conflict.
Arkush and Stanish contend that warfare in the Andes was more prevalent and destructive than is currently thought. A better understanding of the archaeological signatures of warfare, grounded in known examples, should clarify the course of war and peace in the Andes and other world regions.
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