Pre-Inca Mining in the Southern Nasca Region, Peru

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Godoy (1985) has suggested that mining, as a process, is composed of three phases: exploration, development and production. Exploration is the most important and involves the search for and discovery of deposits used later in production (Godoy 1985: 200). Development involves extracting deposits, as well as establishing infrastructure for housing and transportation, if necessary. Production is the phase in which raw materials are processed (e.g. transformed, for example, through smelting) and turned into value-added goods.

The scale of mining greatly affects the nature and organisation of activities comprising these phases. Knapp (1998: 4) and Knapp and Piggot (1997) make a distinction between capital-intensive and what they refer to as 'informal' mining. In a contemporary context, capital-intensive mining is state- of company-run, requires significant capital investment and involves a high degree of labour specialisation (see also Bulmer 1975). The scale of capital-intensive mining particularly affects the development and production phases, including their spatial organisation (e.g. whether production sites are next to or spatially removed from mines), and social relations among miners.

Informal mining, on the other hand, is smaller-scale, part-time, often kin-based and characterised many pre-industrial activities. This form of mining is usually carried out by people living in agrarian-based communities who mine on a part-time basis, especially during seasons when demands for farming labour are low (Knapp 1998: 4; Shaw 1998). Goods are produced on a smaller scale, though can be reduced and moved over long distances.

In Peru, colonial mines such as the well-known Potosi silver mines of southern Bolivia (Bakewell 1984) and the cinnabar mines of Huancavelica (Burger & Matos 2002) were large, extensive operations controlled by the Spanish crown. Most evidence suggests that Inca mining was fairy extensive as well. At the Porco mines near Potosi there is documentary evidence for state control of mining and mining related activities (Bakewell 1984). Additionally, in north-west Argentina the Inca initiated exploration of tin and gold mines and enjoyed greater mining efficiency when they occupied the region in the latter part of the fifteenth century (Gonzalez 1979: 195). These bits of historical data imply large-scale and capital-intensive development and production in Inca mining.

By contrast, there is little evidence to suggest that any of the three phases of mining in the pre-Inca Andes was capital-intensive. The presence of metal artefacts (Lechtman 1991, 1994; Shimada & Griffin 1994; Gordon & Knopf 2007), smelting sites (e.g. Lechtman 1994; Graffam et al. 1996), and mineral pigments used on wall murals, textiles and pottery (e.g. Phipps 1989; Scott et al. 1998; Vaughn et al. 2005) implies, indirectly, that exploration, development and production of mineral resources must have taken place. While the extraction of gold, silver and copper has a long history in the Andes, extending back to at least 2000 BC (e.g. Aldenderfer et al. 2008), current evidence suggests that pre-Inca mining for metals was small-scale and informal (see, for example, Lechtman 1976: 41; Fuller 2004). As well, the use of obsidian and other flaked and ground stone materials far back in prehistory suggests at least informal mining for these resources (e.g. Burger et al. 1998; Burger & Glascock 2000; Jennings & Glascock 2002). However, the conclusion of informal mining may be biased by an absence of evidence for pre-Inca mining that was obliterated by Inca, Spanish, and more recent activities. For example, indirect evidence suggests that mining may have been extensive and state-controlled in pre-Inca times in the Titicaca Basin and in Central Peru (Abbott & Wolfe 2003; Cooke et al. 2007).

In this paper we aim to bring attention to ancient mining activities for metals in the Southern Nasca Region (SNR) of Peru (Figure 1), Hitherto research in this area has found little evidence for mining, perhaps because it has been focused on river valleys and their margins (e. …