Exotic Goods, Chivay Obsidian, and Sociopolitical Change in the South-Central Andes

  • Nicholas Tripcevich


Exchange of exotic goods generates interest among archaeologists because it is a theme that effectively links local phenomena with regional events, and human behavior with material evidence. This study concerns the role of exotic goods in contexts of changing sociopolitical complexity where procurement distance is frequently used to infer value, and differential access to goods is linked to status. The assumption that nonlocal goods are automatically status conferring goods connected to social competition can be problematic, as it depends upon a relationship between distance and scarcity, as well as the social and political consequences of these goods. This perspective often underestimates the importance of “ordinary” household goods both in terms of the circulation distance and the social information conveyed by such goods. Long-distance exchange in the highland Andes, described ethnohistorically (Murra 1980: 139-152), is also evident in the prehispanic distribution of sourceable materials, such as obsidian artifacts (Burger et al. 2000). Archaeological studies in the south-central Andes suggest that regional exchange expanded in quantity and frequency during and after the onset of an economy focused on agropastoralism. This study presents data from research at an obsidian source of regional importance, and examines the link between the circulation of goods like obsidian and the development of regular, seasonal exchange that included transport using llama caravan networks.


Projectile Point Stylistic Attribute Middle Formative Late Intermediate Period Obsidian Source 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



I would like to thank the organizers of the SAA symposium “Xenophile: the lure of the exotic,” the discussants, and fellow participants in the symposium. This chapter benefited from constructive comments from Andy Roddick, although errors remain those of the author.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of California-BerkeleyBerkeleyUSA

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