Technology, life histories and circulation of gold objects during the Middle Period (AD 400–1000): A perspective from the Atacama Desert, Chile.

Plaza Calonge, M.T., Figueroa Larre, V. & Martinón-Torres, M.

Keywords: Goldwork technology · pXRF · Life histories · Atacama Desert · South-central Andes · Middle Period


Studies of archaeological goldwork in the Americas are increasingly revealing a rich variety of context-specifc ways in which gold items were produced and valued, but research attention has largely focused on visually striking artefacts. However, in the south-central Andes, goldwork is described essentially as a ‘sheet technology’—a defnition that tends to downplay the potential complexity and cultural signifcance of this technology in such an extensive and varied region. Here, we employ a life-history approach to explore the existence of particular traditions within this large area. We present chemical and microscopic analyses, using pXRF, SEM–EDS, PIXE and digital microscopy, of 142 gold and silver objects from San Pedro de Atacama (northern Chile), recovered in seven cemeteries dated to the Middle Period (AD 400–1000). Our results reveal a heterogeneous assemblage where compositions, techniques, designs and skill levels vary, suggesting that gold artefacts circulated and were imported from diferent areas of the south-central Andes, such as Tiwanaku, Cochabamba and northwest Argentina. We also identify for the frst time two distinct technological traditions used in San Pedro: small-scale goldwork production, and a tradition of modifying and reusing imported objects by cutting, perforating and separating object parts. Considering the depositional contexts, we propose that the funerary ritual at San Pedro was a key factor in the development of this local goldwork. Our research demonstrates that even small and unimpressive artefacts can be successfully interrogated from archaeological perspectives with integrative approaches that go beyond overly generalising perspectives of gold as an exotic status marker.

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Volumen: 14
Número: 89
Fecha de publicación: 2022
Idioma: english