State-Sanctioned Violence in the Prehispanic Andes: Trauma and Trophy Heads in the Wari Empire


Tiffiny A. Tung - Department of Anthropology - Vanderbilt University  


Abstract: Ancient expansionist states deployed myriad strategies for incorporating and consolidating diverse groups within their domains, including the threat or use of violence.  Skeletal and artifactual remains from the Wari site of Conchopata suggests how violence was ideologically projected and enacted in the Wari state (AD 600 – 1000).  Through detailed bioarchaeological analysis of 31 Wari trophy heads (disembodied heads that are modified for display), I suggest that the Wari state sanctioned the taking of prisoners from distant locales and oversaw the standardized preparation of their heads as trophies.  Trophy head victims may have derived from groups perceived and constructed as “other”, and through a standardized, state-prescribed mutilation and transformation of these bodies, their otherness may have been reified in the sanctity of Wari ritual spaces.  Additionally, healed cranial trauma among 26% of adults reveals the ubiquity of violence, and iconography on state-produced ceramic urns depicts bound prisoners and trophy heads under the control of Wari supernatural beings.  These various lines of data undergird the notion that the Wari state was intimately involved in the production and performance of violence.