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The Potosi-Cobija route: archaeology of colonial transportation in the south Central Andes




García-Albarido, Francisco, author
Van Buren, Mary, advisor
Leisz, Stephen, committee member
Yarrington, Doug, committee member

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In this thesis, I analyze Andean colonial transportation in archaeological and historical terms based on the Potosi-Cobija route case. Potosi was a strategic extractive region during the expansion of the world-economy. In this region, the Spanish Empire obtained large quantities of silver and produced the main international trade currency used between the 16th and 19th centuries. The Potosi-Cobija route was one of the most significant scenes of colonial commerce and smuggling in the South Central Andes. A total of 34 archaeological sites were identified on the route using a methodology constituted by remote sensing and archaeological inspection of targets. This case is used to discuss the modern European imperial economic control of peripheral regions. In the case of the Spanish Empire, the characteristics of mercantilism and expectations about imperialism suggested a centralized control over the flow of silver to Spain, an important reorganization of transportation labor, and official investment in imperial road infrastructure. However, my results contradict the idea of centralized imperial control of the peripheral flow of resources based on official road infrastructure. They indicate the continuity of native transportation labor practices along with some transformations during colonial times, suggesting transportation organized by local agents for their own economic purposes. I conclude by discussing the idea of peripheries as passive channels that ensure the flow of resources to the early modern European metropolis and providing new methodological directions for this type of historical archaeology in the Andes.


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colonial routes
historical archaeology
Spanish Empire
early modern imperialism


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