Archaeology and Economic Development 2012

Commodifying the indigenous in the name of development: the heritage process in the XXI century central Andes

From large-scale debt swap initiatives to punctual community-based re-enactments of invented traditions at archaeological sites, the prioritisation of the mercantile aspects of heritage affects the relationships that define heritage - between archaeologists, local populations and State authorities on the one hand, and with places, objects and landscapes on the other. This paper addresses the historical development of mercantile perspectives about objects and sites from the past in the Andes. 

Beginning with looting and mining in the 16th and 17th centuries, it traces the rise of the illustrated emphasis on testimonial value which, in hand with collectionism, gave rise to national archaeologies and heritage legislation. Drawing from examples from one of the World's mountaineering hotspots - the Cordillera Blanca Andes of Peru - the different mercantile perspectives about objects and sites from the past that are driven by the current phase of globalisation and are current in Peru, are showcased.

Spurred by mediatised images of Machu Picchu and Sipán, national, regional and local authorities and communities across the Andes have attempted, often naively, to turn “their” “sites” into spectacular, money-spinning touristic enterprises. These contingent encounters define the processes of commoditisation, and some will be scrutinised in detail in this paper in order to address the silencing of non-mercantile relations between people about “archaeological” objects and places. It will be argued that current efforts to “make archaeological sites valuable” (poner en valor) or to “turn them into heritage” (patrimonializar) with the intention to effect economic development, fail to consider the political implications of this process: the non-material impacts on heritage raised by McDonaldisation.

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