The Thorny Problem of Spondylus Sourcing in the Ancient Andes

Author(s): Corey Herrmann; Nicholas Brown

Year: 2018


Archaeologists have long been fascinated with the exploitation and exchange of Spondylus spp. across the ancient world. This is especially true for the Andes, where the "thorny oyster" has been found far afield from its tropical breeding sites along the coasts of Ecuador and northern Peru. However, factors such as the uneven development of archaeology between Peru and Ecuador and the persistence of certain myths about Andean Spondylus have led to a "black-boxing" effect where exchange from Ecuador to Peru is assumed rather than tested.

This paper briefly presents the state of understanding in Andean Spondylus, as relates to: its exploitation by ancient people; its exchange through the coast, highlands, and jungle; its production into remarkable artifacts of beauty and importance; and its cosmological significance for numerous Andean societies. This review highlights the potential impact of developing techniques to source Spondylus shells from their coastal Ecuadorian and Peruvian breeding grounds on the study of the ancient Andes. The paper will present preliminary results of archaeometric sourcing efforts, the difficulties of extending this technique into the Andean paleoclimate, and the implications of defining the sources of Spondylus for exchange in the ancient Northern and Central Andes.

Cite this Record

The Thorny Problem of Spondylus Sourcing in the Ancient Andes. Corey Herrmann, Nicholas Brown. Presented at The 82nd Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Washington, DC. 2018 ( tDAR id: 444732)

This Resource is Part of the Following Collections

Spatial Coverage

min long: -82.441; min lat: -56.17 ; max long: -64.863; max lat: 16.636 ;

Record Identifiers

Abstract Id(s): 22304