Mobile communities and pastoralist landscapes during the Formative period in the Central Altiplano of Bolivia

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The domestication of llamas and alpacas was fundamental for the cultural and economic development of Andean societies, but the origins of camelid pastoralism as a distinct mode of socioeconomic organization remain little understood. Whereas most archaeological interpretations of prehispanic highland societies emphasize the transition from hunting-gathering to agriculture as a process marked by the establishment of agricultural sedentary villages, other subsistence and mobility strategies have been for the most part overlooked. A case in point is the Wankarani cultural complex from the Central Altiplano of Bolivia, which has been interpreted as an example of an early village-based sedentary society. Here, I argue that a model of mobile pastoralism based on ethnoarchaeological research better explains the Central Altiplano's Formative period archaeological record. Recently collected data support this proposition. Settlement patterns consisted of multiple dispersed camps attached to residential bases occupied recurrently. Horizontal excavations from a residential base revealed structures and features analogous to pastoralist landscapes documented around the world. Faunal identification confirmed the preponderance of domesticated camelids. Based on this evidence, I argue that we need better explanatory frameworks for approaching the origins, organization, and variability associated with early food producing societies such as mobile camelid pastoralists.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3-26
Number of pages24
JournalLatin American Antiquity
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2014

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Archaeology
  • History
  • Archaeology


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