Feasting and the evolution of cooperative social organizations circa 2300 B.P. in Paracas culture, southern Peru

Charles Stanish, Henry Tantaleán, Kelly Knudson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Recent theoretical innovations in cultural evolutionary theory emphasize the role of cooperative social organizations that unite diverse groups as a key step in the evolution of social complexity. A principal mechanism identified by this theory is feasting, a strategy that reinforces norms of cooperation. Feasts occur throughout the premodern world, and the intensification of feasting is empirically correlated to increased social complexity. A critical factor in assessing the evolutionary significance of this practice is the scale and range of the feast from that focused on a single community to ones that draw from a large region or catchment zone. This work addresses the degree to which hosts draw on a local area vs. a regional one in initial prehistoric feasting. We report on excavations at a locus of intensive feasting—a ceremonial sunken court—in a fifth- to third-century BCE Paracas site on the south coast of Peru. We selected 39 organic objects from the court placed as offerings during major feasting episodes. We analyzed the radiogenic strontium isotope (87Sr/86Sr) values to determine the geographical origin of each object. The 87Sr/86Sr data plus additional archaeological data support a hypothesis that the catchment of the court was quite extensive. The initial strategy of political and economic alliance building was macroregional in scope. These data indicate that the most effective initial strategy in early state formation in this case study was to build wide alliances at the outset, as opposed to first consolidating local ones that subsequently expand.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)E6716-E6721
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number29
StatePublished - Jul 17 2018


  • 87Sr/86Sr
  • Cooperation
  • Cultural evolution
  • Feasting
  • Paracas

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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