This book takes a new and provocative approach to ancient state expansion, looking at the role and dynamics of colonization in pre-Columbian Andean states. Paul Goldstein argues that the influential Tiwanaku culture in the Bolivian highlands, which existed in the 7th through 11th centuries A.D., was at its core a civilization of peoples of distinctive ethnic and political affiliations who shared some common identities. He maintains that Tiwanaku expansion came about because of a complex web of economic and cultural exchanges that linked regions into a pluralistic confederation, a demographic process he calls "ethnicity in motion." Goldstein takes issue with earlier notions of ancient state expansion that argue for a coercive centralized political body under charismatic warlords and powerful ruling elites. He asserts that "globalist" interpretations of expansive states, whether they focus on imperial conquest or hegemonic "world systems," all share a similarly limited centrist perspective. In contrast, his reassessment of state structure emphasizes identity, process, and dynamics from the bottom up.
Noting that the Tiwanaku civilization was far more pluralistic than is commonly believed, he contends that early states in the Andes, and perhaps throughout the ancient world, were segmentary in nature and that they remained so even as they grew into larger empires. After introducing the role of diasporas in early state growth, Goldstein synthesizes recent research on the Tiwanaku civilization of highland Bolivia, Chile, and Peru. He presents the results of his own extensive archaeological field research in Azapa, Chile, and Moquegua, Peru, showing how settlement, household, mortuary, and monumental archaeology bear on the colonization of lowland agricultural valleys.