Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group


First Advisor

Clark L. Erickson


This dissertation investigates the processes through which the Inca state emerged in the south-central Andes, ca. 1400 CE in Cusco, Peru, an area that was to become the political center of the largest indigenous empire in the Western hemisphere. Many approaches to this topic over the past several decades have framed state formation in a social evolutionary framework, a perspective that has come under increasing critique in recent years. I argue that theoretical attempts to overcome these problems have been ultimately confounded, and in order to resolve these contradictions, an ontological shift is needed. I adopt a relational perspective towards approaching the emergence of the Inca state – in particular, that of assemblage theory. Treating states and other complex social entities as assemblages means understanding them as open-ended and historically individuated phenomena, emerging from centuries or millennia of sociopolitical, cultural, and material engagements with the human and non-human world, and constituted over the longue durée.

This means that understanding the emergence of the Inca state, and the historically contingent form it took, requires investigating the transformations of local and regional communities in the Cusco heartland. The multiscalar nature of this type of investigation also demands an examination of processes occurring at particular local communities through time. To resolve this, I directed excavations at the archaeological site of Minaspata, located in the Lucre Basin in the southeastern part of the Cusco region, followed by analyses of the material remains recovered from the site. These include fine-grained investigations of the ceramic patterns, the faunal and macrobotanical remains, and the procurement of obsidian through long-distance exchange. By comparing these patterns to those of the larger Cusco region, an understanding of how the Cusco regional community cohered and broke apart at various points in time can be gained. This regional community eventually gave rise to the Inca state, providing the raw material for Inca projects of sovereignty and subject-making. Although the period before Inca emergence was marked by processes focused on the localization of community, the sociocultural and material frameworks established through complex histories of interaction over millennia enabled the Cusco region to reproduce itself as a self-recognizing, coherent social entity, a critical necessity for the emergence of Inca sovereignty.

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