Economic, Social, and Ritual Aspects of Copper Mining in Ancient Peru: An Upper Ica Valley Case Study

  • Hendrik Van Gijseghem
  • Kevin J. Vaughn
  • Verity H. Whalen
  • Moises Linares Grados
  • Jorge Olano Canales
Part of the Interdisciplinary Contributions to Archaeology book series (IDCA)


We use survey data on ancient mining obtained from the upper Ica valley in southern Peru to examine the complex and rich relationships that ancient Andean people maintained with the landscape and the resources it yielded. In particular, we provide a preliminary evaluation of archaeological contexts that illustrate historically and ethnohistorically documented mining practices and attitudes toward the mining landscape. The results of this study indicate that mining in the Andean past was embedded in ontologies where economics, status, ritual responsibilities, and relationships of reciprocity between people and landscape intersected. The archaeological data show that mining of copper and copper-bearing minerals, while practiced for some 2 millennia in the region, became increasingly important and formal in the Late Intermediate Period, when new strategies for the legitimization of inequalities were adopted. These included the ownership and exchange of metal items, the control of their production, and the sponsorship of rituals that accompanied the extraction of minerals from the Andes. Since the mountains have long been understood to be the seat of powerful supernatural beings that interceded in human affairs in ways that depended on human actions, we emphasize that the removal of matter from these mountains was a momentous act, and that palliating its potential consequences was rewarded with great prestige.


Mining Activity Extraction Site Mining Location Metal Object Mineral Exploitation 
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.



We extend gratitude to the National Geographic Society for funding this phase of a wider program initiated by K.J. Vaughn. We are also grateful of the various forms of assistance and support we received from Ruben Gracia Soto and Susana Arce Torres from Ica’s regional Museum and Peru’s Ministry of Culture, and logistic help from Henry Vladimir Falcon. We also thank the anonymous reviewer who took the time to carefully review this early draft of this chapter and offer helpful and valuable suggestions.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Hendrik Van Gijseghem
    • 1
  • Kevin J. Vaughn
    • 2
  • Verity H. Whalen
    • 2
  • Moises Linares Grados
    • 3
  • Jorge Olano Canales
    • 4
  1. 1.Université de MontrealMontrealCanada
  2. 2.Department of AnthropologyPurdue UniversityWest LafayetteUSA
  3. 3.ArqueocareLimaPeru
  4. 4.Nasca Mining ProjectCallao, 07Peru

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