Supriya Ghosh (Editor)

Latin American social archaeology

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Latin American Social Archaeology (LASA) is a school of thought developed in Latin America in the 1970s and 1980s, focusing on the application of historical materialism to the interpretation of the archaeological record. It is an orthodox current of Marxism, since it adheres to dialectical materialism.


Within the LASA, it is possible to distinguish between two main currents. One, and the first, was initiated by the Peruvian archaeologist Luis G. Lumbreras (Perú), who draws most of his inspiration from the work of Vere Gordon Childe, and authored the seminal book La Arqueología como Ciencia Social ((1974) 1984). Most of his papers, and those of his followers, were published in the journal Gaceta Arqueológica Andina.

The other main current, inspired by the work of Lumbreras, is composed of those archaeologists who are members of the Oaxtepec Group, among them: Luis F. Bate (Chile), I. Vargas Arenas (Venezuela), Mario Sanoja Obediente (Venezuela), Marcio Veloz Maggiolo (Venezuela), Patricia Fournier. Most of their work was published by the journal Boletín de Antropología Americana, published by the Instituto Panaméricano de Geografía. The whole production of this group on Marxist theory and archaeology was synthesized by Luis F. Bate, in his book El proceso de Investigación en Arqueología (1998)

Archaeology as a social science

In 1976, Luis G. Lumbreras published a compilation of some papers on Peruvian archaeology plus five capitules deditacted to Marxist Theory, and its potential for archaeological research. The work was heavily influenced by Childe (1954), especially by its unilineal conception of cultural evolution (Childe 1964). After that work, Lumbreras published a lot of papers in the Gaceta Arqueológica Andina. Most of them republished in the book Arqueología y Sociedad.

The Teotihuacan Reunion and the Oaxtepec Group

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The Tri-categorial system

The most interesting contribution of the Oaxtepec archaeologist is the system the proposed to understand "social wholes or totalities". To the classical distinction between Infrastructure and Superstructure, they added the distinction between Form and Content (Bate 1998).

They propose that society has three levels of existence: Culture, the Mode of Life and the Socio-economical Formation (SEF). The last is the system os essential contents of the society, i.e. the dialectical link between the forces of production, the relations of productions and some general form of ideology and institutions. The SEF is common to all societies with the same level of development. Culture is the phenomenological singular manifestation of a single society.

The Mode of Life is an intermediate category thar refers to particularities of the mode of Production, determined by ecological variables. For example, for the Foraging or Hunter-gatherer mode of production, you can define various modes of life according to the classical Forager-Collector dichotomy.

Also, the three levels have distinctive temporal rhythms. The SEF is the slower of the three, since many changes in the Mode of Life or in Culture could happen before a revolutionary evolution of the mode of production occurs.

The tricategorial system is a kind of answer to the debates about sociocultural-unilinear social evolutionism vs. multilineal evolutionism.


The works done under the LASA banner have been the targets of various criticism. The first is that the social archaeologist's work is no different from the works of culture-history (specially the neoevolutionist branch). The other main criticism is that the authors dwell too much in theory and very little on actual empirical work.


Latin American social archaeology Wikipedia