The cultural area of the south-central Andes incorporates southern Bolivia, northwestern Argentina and northern Chile (Figure 49.1). The archaeology of this region is dominated by studies of contact and exchange. Most studies have sought to identify non-local objects in local tomb contexts and explain the social or economic mechanisms by which these foreign objects arrived (e. g., Berenguer 1975, 1978, 1993, 1998; Castro et al. 1994; Llagostera 1996; Tarrago 1977, 1989, 1994). A large proportion has concentrated on the mechanisms of control employed by hierarchal highland polities (i. e., Tiwanaku) on the smaller Chilean communities (Berenguer and Dauelsberg 1989; Browman 1996, 1997; Rodman 1992; Serrancino 1980; Uribe and Aguero 2001, 2004), although there is a concurrent body of literature on the other side of the cordillera in Argentina concerned with long-distance interaction as well (Albeck 1994; Gentile 1986, 1988; Lazzari 1999; Scattolin and Lazzari 1997; Tarrago 1994; Tartusi and Nunez 1995). Many of these investigations comment on the diversity of material culture found at San Pedro de Atacama, which is assumed to be the result of the settlement’s role as a key node in the extensive trade networks linking areas of Chile, Bolivia and Argentina. Similar material diversity is also present at other sites in the region: Topater, Pica 8, Rio Loa, Toconce, Chiu Chiu 200, and Quillagua (Figure 49.2; Aguero 1998; Aldunate and Castro 1981; Alliende 1981; Benavente 1978; 1988-89; Fernandez 1978; Zlatar 1984).
Many models have been elaborated to explain this material diversity within the cemeteries. Verticality/ecological complementarity (Murra 1972, 1975, 1985a, 1985b), for example, imagines the radiation of colonists from natal communities to diverse ecological niches to diversify and thus stabilize subsistence in unstable high altitude environments. This model has become one of the defining characteristics of central Andean societies as constructed by modern social scientists; archaeological testing, adaptation and critique of this model also exist (e. g., Rostworowski 1977; Shimada 1982; Stanish 1989a, b, 1992, 1994; Van Buren 1996, 1997).
Different explanatory models should have different archaeological implications. In the case of ecological complementarity, archaeological styles should be seen in homogeneous core settlements (typically highland) and inserted into (usually coastal) valleys, shared multicultural valley systems, or multicultural communities comprised of many such colonial enclaves (see Stanish 1992, 2005; see also papers in Aldenderfer 1993). A few non-local objects in houses would indicate trade and exchange relationships, the placement of nonlocal objects in graves across all classes (i. e., Tiwanaku in San Pedro: Orellana 1984), or the use of specific goods to signal status (i. e., Aguada in San Pedro: Llagostera 1995). At present, we know that core settlements are rarely homogeneous and that, in fact, peripheral areas may be culturally or materially more homogeneous than the core (Blom 1999; Blom et al. 1998; Janusek 2002; Martinez 1998:163). We have archaeological evidence in the Andes of ethic enclaves occupying coastal valleys or sharing valleys with other groups, but little evidence for multicultural colonial communities (Stanish 2005: 229; but see also Owen 1993 and Reycraft 2005).
In northern Chile and northwestern Argentina, others have proposed that such ecological colonization was complemented by long-distance trade and exchange carried out by large caravans of llamas (i. e., Berenguer 2004; Browman 1990a, b; Korstanje 1998; Neilsen 2001; Nunez and Dillehay 1995), particularly in the south-central Andes (although see Rostworowksi 1977 on trade and non-colonial exchange). The Altiplano Mode Model
(Browman 1980, 1984), for example, suggests that the direct exploitation of various ecological niches serves best in vertical landscapes (i. e., mountain ranges), but that differential community specialization in conjunction with caravan trade is more appropriate for vast, horizontal intermountain (southern Andean) plateaus. Browman (1990a, b) proposes that colonization of ecological zones and trade between communities specialized in complementary production occurred simultaneously.
Many attributes of this economic mode are also found in the models of gyratory mobility (mobilidad giratoria) (Nunez and Dillehay 1995) and reticular complementarity (complementariedad reticular) (Llagostera 1996). Both models see San Pedro de Atacama as a prehistoric node in a large, pan-regional trade network realized through llama caravanning. Nunez and Dillehay (1995) argue that the movement of specific caravanning groups between settled nodes particularly characterized the south-central Andes. These settlements provided the incentive for trade (as a market for extra-regional goods) and logistical support for the caravans. Llagostera’s (1996) reticular complementarity attempts to rectify the lack of information about social or political organization in the gyratory model [Note 1]. Llagostera sees San Pedro de Atacama as an important link in the formation of a pan-regional peer polity among powerful trade communities throughout the region negotiated through the consumption of exotic trade goods. Along with others (Berenguer and Dauelsberg 1989), he argues that the development of power by San Pedro elites, based on the control of non-local goods and ideas, developed over time, culminating in the Coyo phase (AD 700 - 1000), coinciding with the economic and ideological presence of the highland Tiwanaku state in the region.
Within this context, we can easily explain the presence of non-local objects in local graves, but why are there so few ceramics after 2,000 years of interaction? All of these studies still see interaction as occurring between communities with autonomous economic goals. Archaeologically, we use material patterning to identify relatively stylistically coherent communities at home (viz. “culture”) or abroad (viz. “ethnic group”; but see Bawden 2005 and Stovel 2002 for diachronic studies of political identity construction). My argument proposes that we understand San Pedro inhabitants as participating in a much wider regional “culture” experienced at the family and community level. This does not render the above models obsolete, rather it casts them as mechanisms by which we can understand a wider social world and consider a different expression of belonging in the use of non-local pots as burial furnishings.