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The Calchaquí Valley Project

The research area, near Cachi, Salta Province, Argentina

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near cachi salta province argentinanear cachi salta province argentina
View across the community of Borgatta

infant burial urninfant burial urn
A broken infant burial urn, recovered from excavations

residential enclosure borgattaresidential enclosure borgatta
A residential enclosure at Borgatta with the floor visible

Introduction

The Calchaquí Valley Project (also known as Investigaciones Regionales Arqueológicas Calchaquí) investigates power relations, leadership, and ritual practices in the northern Calchaquí Valley in the Andes of Salta Province, northwest Argentina, during the period before the Inka conquest (ca. AD 1000--1450).

In the Calchaquí Valley, pre-Hispanic peoples built residential compounds in sites near their irrigated fields. Infants were buried in elaborate decorated funerary urns under the floors of these residences. Excavations at the large community of Borgatta (SSalCac 16) reveal that activities involving burial of infants in urns were focal activities for members of a household. Surprisingly, however, evidence of political activities integrating the broader community has been more difficult to find. Social differentiation appears not to have been highly developed in this region, and it appears, based on current evidence, that households were the primary setting for ritual practices and (more tentatively) political activities such as feasting.

More generally, our findings challenge assumptions that hierarchy, or 'top-down' forms of leadership, inevitably emerge as communities expand in scale or become internally more complex. Alternatives to hierarchy (such as heterarchy---where power is decentralized, flexible, or shared) therefore appear to have significant explanatory potentials for regional polities, at least in this semi-arid region of the South Andes.