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Department of Archaeology


Research aims

             View of a household compound, or patio group, during excavation

This archaeological research project investigates the rise of political authority in the northern Calchaquí Valley in the Andes of northwest Argentina. During the Regional Developments period (AD 950-1450), small-scale polities, each encompassing a population in the low thousands, emerged along the Calchaquí River and its tributaries. Despite population growth and the expansion of larger communities to include plazas, earthen mounds, and a few distinctive burials, leadership in the Calchaquí was not strongly institutionalized. While archaeological evidence reveals a rich iconography, expressed on decorated funerary urns and bronze plaques, many of these symbols appear to have been used primarily for household-based (rather than public) rituals. Local communities contain only limited material evidence for social hierarchy and activities---such as feasting---that might be interpreted as community-wide integrating ceremonies under the sponsorship of local leaders (DeMarrais 1997, 2004).

This absence of evidence for social inequality or institutionalized leadership provides an intriguing case for considering the conditions under which centralized authority, as well as status differences, might fail to develop. During the five centuries before the Inka conquest of the region in AD 1450, local communities grew substantially in size. Yet in the Calchaquí Valley, there appears to have been correspondingly little change in the material correlates of social hierarchy (such as crafted goods or exotic trade items, commonly associated with leadership in traditional societies). What factors limited the capacities of leaders to establish and consolidate positions of leadership? This project seeks to answer these questions through long-term archaeological study of household variability and political activities within the community of Borgatta, a settlement of approximately 1500 inhabitants.

View of an earthen mound at Borgatta, surrounded by the remains of residential compounds and collapsing terrace walls


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