View of the Aconquija Sierra from the site of Cardonal, Cajon valley, NW Argentina.

A social landscape without a centre

The circulation of artefacts, materials and skills in NW Argentina (first millennium AD)

The south-central Andes have provided one of the richest and oldest records of long-distance social interaction in the Americas. In NW Argentina (NWA) in particular, sedentary communities blossomed during the Formative period (1500 BC-600 AD) through their connections across the landscape, accessing a variety of resources while expanding their social world beyond daily face-to-face interaction.

This project aims at understanding the role of circulating artefacts in the construction and reproduction of social relationships at the onset of settled life in the area. It seeks to answer the question of how diversified social networks were in the period, by carefully examining rather than assuming the nature, scale, direction, frequency and significance of such contacts. In this sense, the project seeks to define the social landscape of NW Argentina during this phase of prehistory, understanding it as the structure of socio-material and spatial relationships underlying the human configuration of the environment. This will be achieved through a methodology that combines the geochemical and technological analysis of materials traditionally studied separately (pottery and lithics).

A previous pilot study conducted by the PI and funded by a British Academy Small Grant (2009-10) has proved the applicability of the methodology and provided a useful baseline for a confident discussion of some of the key assumptions underlying regional social interaction studies. Building upon this, this project will carry out substantive research in order to apply this methodology to a larger sample that will be comparable in terms of size to those that have resulted in robust studies worldwide. Through the integration of various analytical avenues, the project will remedy an important gap in regional knowledge while feeding into larger disciplinary and interdisciplinary concerns relevant beyond the study area.

The project focuses on the southern Calchaquí valleys area, including sections of the Aconquija sierra, and the Cajón, Santa María, Bolsón and Hualfín valleys. Research will be conducted over 12 months in collaboration with the PASCAL archaeological team directed by Professor María Cristina Scattolin (CONICET-Ethnographic Museum, Buenos Aires, and University of La Plata). Geochemical analysis of pottery and obsidian will be conducted at the Archaeometry laboratory, University of Missouri Research Reactor.

Museo Etnográfico "Juan B. Ambrosetti", Universidad de Buenos Aires

Archaeometry Laboratory, U. of Missouri Research Reactor