Universiteit Leiden

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Centre for Indigenous Americas Studies

Landscapes of mobility

Landscapes of mobility in the northern Chilean altiplano: from chiefly networks to colonial markets (AD 1100-1800).


Dr. Corcoran-Tadd's research forms part of the NEXUS1492 project at the Faculty of Archaeology and examines the history of caravan-based mobility during the late prehispanic and colonial periods in the south-central Andes. The project focuses on a strategic region in the highlands of northern Chile that that straddled the colonial silver trade route from the mines of Bolivia to the Pacific. During the colonial period, the mines of Bolivia provided silver to the rest of the Spanish colonial world via the Pacific port of Arica and a network of shifting routes known collectively as ‘the silver road’ or ruta de la plata .

However, the ruta de la plata remains little studied from an archaeological perspective with the result that this important and complex rural landscape is understood almost entirely from the urban colonial archive. As in the late prehispanic Caribbean and Mesoamerica, the south-central Andes before the Spanish conquest was characterized by dynamic networks of long-distance connectivity. The mobile pastoralists, long-distance caravanners, and extensive communities of political alliance that formed these networks did not disappear with the Spanish conquest but rather appear to have persisted and shaped the emergent colonial landscape.

Using a combination of remote sensing, pedestrian survey, and GIS, the project seeks to redress this imbalance by exploring patterns of llama- and mule-based mobility along this route during the late prehispanic and colonial periods. The project thus explores classic questions of socio-cultural transformation and continuities in indigenous communities during the Spanish colonial period. However, the project also seeks contextualize these changes within a much longer history of mobility and connectivity in the south-central Andes and examine the impacts of Inca imperialism in the region as an important precursor to later historical dynamics.

People involved

Principal investigator: Dr. Noa Corcoran-Tadd

Local collaborators: Consejo de Monumentos Nacionales, Fundación Altiplano, and the comunidades indígenas del pueblo de Tacora


NEXUS1492 Project (Leiden University) and the Rust Family Foundation

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