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From herders to wage-laborers and back again: mountain mobility in the Puna of Atacama, northern Chile.

Author(s): Flora Vilches ; Hector Morales

Year: 2016

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Towards the end of the 19th Century, the subsistence mode of indigenous Atacameño society transited from an agricultural-pastoral economy to a more diversified capitalist-based one. This transformation resulted from a growing mining industry in the northern region of Chile. While part of the indigenous population migrated to the new productive enclaves, others remained in their territory, especially the herders of the puna. These highlanders, however, also took part of the new capitalist order as wage laborers in sulfur mines and llareta exploitation companies, all located in the mountain range. From archaeological research and oral history, we have detected the constant movement of indigenous laborers between different companies depending on the benefits that they offered. Such “transhumant” mobility was possible due to the cultural capital of these peoples, which translated in a deep knowledge of their territory as well as outstanding physical strength and endurance, all of which enabled them to accomplish hard work in a harsh environment. We contend that highlanders’ cultural capital operated as a means of resistance to poor labor conditions. Indeed, along with their constant itinerancy, Atacameños managed to maintain wage labor hand in hand with Andean practices such as earth rituals and the “flowering” of herds.

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From herders to wage-laborers and back again: mountain mobility in the Puna of Atacama, northern Chile.. Flora Vilches, Hector Morales. Presented at The 81st Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Orlando, Florida. 2016 ( tDAR id: 404130)


Geographic Keywords
South America

Spatial Coverage

min long: -93.691; min lat: -56.945 ; max long: -31.113; max lat: 18.48 ;

Arizona State University The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation National Science Foundation National Endowment for the Humanities Society for American Archaeology Archaeological Institute of America