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The Thorny Oyster and the Voice of God: Spondylus and Strombus in Andean Prehistory

  • Allison C. Paulsen
Abstract

An exchange network based on long-distance export of Spondylus and Strombus, two mollusks native to coastal Ecuador, united the sierra and coast of both Ecuador and Peru during a long period of Andean prehistory. The gradual expansion of the export area is sketched, using evidence from three successive periods: (A) 2800 to 1100 B.C., (B) 1100 to 100 B.C., and (C) 100 B.C. to A.D. 1532. Each of these periods corresponds not only to an enlargement of the exchange sphere, but also to a striking change in the sociocultural status and role of the two shellfish in highland Ecuador and in Peru. This series of qualitative changes is related to evolutionary sociopolitical developments in the central Andes. Chávin is seen as a pristine state, linked to the later Huari and Inca empires through their common use of Spondylus and Strombus shells as symbols of the oracles that were important integrative mechanisms in the evolution toward large-scale societies.

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American Antiquity
  • ISSN: 0002-7316
  • EISSN: 2325-5064
  • URL: /core/journals/american-antiquity
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