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Atalla: A Center on the Periphery of the Chavín Horizon

  • Richard L. Burger (a1) and Ramiro Matos Mendieta (a2)
Abstract

The emergence of public architecture in Peru's central highlands occurred during the mid-first millennium B. C. and is correlated with the expansion of the Chavín sphere of interaction. Atalla, a high-altitude site in Huancavelica, represents one of the first known centers with large-scale masonry constructions. Analysis of the ceramic assemblage reveals many similarities between the local ceramics and the Janabarriu phase pottery from Chavín de Huántar, located 450 km to the north. The inhabitants of Atalla emulated the ceramic style and cut-stone masonry of the much larger northern civic-ceremonial centers, like Chavín de Huántar, while maintaining local traits such as circular dwellings and burials in or adjacent to domestic architecture. Utilizing a core-periphery perspective, the unprecedented formation in the central highlands of a community like Atalla is hypothesized to be an independent response to demands for exotic goods from the more complex societies to the north. The largest mercury deposits in Latin America are located 15 km to the west of Atalla, and the center would have been in an excellent position to procure cinnabar and distribute this bright red vermilion pigment. Production of the pigment itself would have occurred at small villages like Chuncuimarca located in the zone of the mercury deposits.

La emergencia de arquitectura pública en la sierra central de Perú occurrió durante el primer milenio a. C. y está correlacionada con la expansión de la esfera de interacción del horizonte Chavín. Atalla es un sitio que se ubica en el Departamento de Huancavelica a unos 3,850 msnm, y representa uno de los primeros centros conocidos con construcciones de piedra de gran monumentalidad. El análisis de la cerámica de Atalla revela varias semejanzas estilísticas con la cerámica de la fase Janabarriu del sitio arqueológico de Chavín de Huántar, ubicado 450 km de distancia. Los habitantes de Atalla imitaron el estilo de cerámica y la mampostería de los centros civic-ceremoniales, como Chavín de Huántar, pero a la vez mantuvieron rasgos locales como la construcción de estructuras domésticas circulares y un patron de enterramiento al interior o adyacente a las viviendas. La formación de una comunidad como Atalla no tiene antecedente en la zona, y se plantea la hipótesis que este asentamiento fue una respuesta independiente a la demanda para bienes exóticos de las sociedades complejas norteñas. El depósito geológico de cinabrio (HgS) de mayor envergadura en America Latina se encuentra a 15 km al oeste de Atalla y existe datos arqueológicos de su explotación temprana en tiempos prehispánicos. El cinabrio tiene un color distinctivo de rojo vivo, el cual era utilizado como pigmento para la decoración del cuerpo humano y artefactos durante el Horizonte Temprano en sitios como Kuntur Wasi y Chavín de Huántar. Atalla tenía una excelente ubicación en el procuramiento y distribución del pigmento de cinabrio (bermellón). La producción del pigmento habría ocurrido en asentamientos pequeños como Chuncuimarca que se localiza en la zona de los depósitos de mercurio cerca del pueblo actual de Huancavelica. Como resultado del contacto y las exigencias de organizar la producción y distribución de materias primas tan escasas como bermellón y obsidiana, el desarrollo de sociedades complejas en la sierra norte del Perú estimuló transformaciones socio-económicas en zonas menos pobladas y desarrollados en la sierra central hace aproximadamente 2,500 años.

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