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Field School 2018: Tacora Archaeological Survey

Sponsored by the Leiden University’s Nexus 1492 project and led by Dr. Noa Corcoran-Tadd, we left the warm summer of the Netherlands behind to survey parts of the 'ruta de plata' in Tacora (Arica) located in the northern highland part of chilly Chile.

The objective of this archaeological survey is to examine the mobility of caravaners from the late prehispanic period (c. 1000-1532 AD) to the end of the Colonial period (c. 1532-1800 AD) and to understand the part played by local pastoralist communities in the long distance network of both the Inca and Spanish empires. For this we are focusing on a region of strategic choice, though understudied from archaeological perspective, the colonial silver trade route which connected the silver mines from Bolivia to the Pacific Ocean.

Photo courtesy of Charmax Donker

We started this project off with a generous amount of bad luck. Altitude sickness during acclimatization in Putre, snow and hail during the first week of survey, and a block "over-filled" with sites. Though you would generally expect an archaeologist to be happy with sites, the cost of valuable work hours that it took to map and record our findings was more than we could afford. As we struggled through the relatively spacious sites of our first road-block the weather got worse and time flew by. On Friday the 20th of July we finalized our survey of block 3 and took refuge down in Putre from the predicted snowfall that would hit Tacora.

Photo courtesy of Charmax Donker

The second week of survey did not start easy either. The mountain pass to Tacora was closed off due to the snow. Good news came to us on Monday morning the 23th, there was another - though longer - route that led to Tacora. From that moment onwards the sun shone down on us, literally. The weather cleared up and we started to get used to the project. We surveyed through 7 more blocks last week, keeping an eye out for all ceramics from 1000 AD, when the Arica tradition with red on black on beige decoration came to be, till 1950 AD. This also includes the thick botija ceramics, the decorative Inca ceramics, and the lovely Pacajes ceramics that are distinctively decorated with drawings of camelids.

Photo courtesy of Charmax Donker

With this project we hope to gain insight in the wide network of caravan-based transport, the possible difference between local and imperial ceramics, and a certain level of understanding of the transforming patterns of mobility and connectivity. It be great if we could manage to finish all 15 survey blocks that Dr. Noa selected, if only to gather as much possible data before the regional mining operations expand. Let's see what next week brings.

By Charmax J.V. Donker

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