Technology: Ideology, Economics and Power in the Andes

Pottery making in Machacca, Peru

UCL Institute of Archaeology  | 15 -18 June 2015

Organisers: Bill Sillar, Viviana Siveroni and Miguel Fuentes

Sponsors: UCL Institute of Archaeology, the Institute of Latin American Studies, University of London, the Institute for Archaeo-Metallurical Studies, the Peruvian Embassy in the UK

Conference Theme

Cooking in Raqchi, Peru

Economic and ideological concerns both influenced the development and deployment of ancient technologies, and researchers working in the Andes have been at the forefront of archaeological studies of these issues. Heather Lechtman’s proposal of ‘technological style’ included an assertion that cosmology and cultural values influenced metal working techniques, and similar concerns are seen in Izumi Shimada’s analysis of cross-craft technologies. Cathy Costin and Dean Arnold’s analysis have also helped to show how social, economic and environmental influences affected the scale and organisation of craft production. A pertinent question for these studies is the degree to which the Andean region is merely an exemplar of global trends and the degree to which it presents unique situations (e.g. due to the development of complex societies without a significant market economy).

In this conference consideration will be given to how ideology and symbolism as well as economic systems and political control helped to shape technological change, in order to discuss how these perspectives can be combined within our analytical methods and interpretations. Papers have been invited that draw upon recent fieldwork and material analysis to debate what influenced the choice of techniques and the scale of production within Andean crafts, construction and agricultural technologies.

While the conference will focus primarily on pre-Columbian examples, the organisers are conscious of issues such as the economic, environmental and social impact of current mining practice and encourage participants to reflect on the relevance of their research for the region today.

Issues for Debate

  • Did Andean technologies evolve in distinct ways to other parts of the world?
  • Are regional technological differences due to specific landscape and resources, social and economic systems, or a distinctive world view?
  • Does the absence of a strong market economy (with the assumption of a greater focus on labour exchange, reciprocity and redistribution) alter the economic values that shaped technological development?
  • Did the ‘absence’ of the wheel, the pulley, the saw, iron and glass production or traction animals significantly affect the direction of technical innovation and the use of labour?
  • Can analysis of craft production and distribution be used to affirm, or question, current models for social and economic organisation in the ancient Andes?
  • To what extent were craft production and agricultural production understood or organised as distinct activities, and to what extent should we separate them in our analysis?
  • Did the cultural and ritual significance of the location of raw materials influence their selection, or was it the intrinsic physical qualities of the materials themselves? How can we evaluate this?
  • Who controlled the supply of raw materials and labour? How could production and distribution be controlled?
  • To what extent did the politics of territoriality, conquest, domination and resistance influence Andean technology?
  • Did concepts such as ‘material essence’, animism or kamay affect the practice of technology in the Andes? How can we demonstrate this?
  • To what extent did ‘efficiency of production’ and ‘economy of scale’ influence the development of technological innovation in the Andes?
  • In what ways did the intended function of an object influence how it was made?
  • What were the environmental and social impacts of pre-Colombian materials extraction, fuel selection and technological choices?
  • Was there, or could there ever have been, an industrial revolution in the Andes?
  • In what ways did technological practice and the economics of production change after the Spanish conquest?
  • Can our materials analysis reveal Andean value systems?
  • What are the main restrictions that affect our analysis of ancient Andean technologies today?
  • Can our analysis of Ancient Andean technology contribute to debates about the economic, environmental and social impact of technological choices today?
Spinning and dyeing wool in Patacancha, Peru

Conference Structure

The conference will consist of two and a half days of presented papers, followed by a half day round table discussion where the publication plans will be developed.


Presentations will include papers by Heather Lechtman, Cathy Costin, Izumi Shimada, Pablo Cruz and Gary Urton with Pierre Lemonnier and Ian Freestone acting as discussants for the round-table debate.

Publication Plans

The conference will be used to develop a peer reviewed book for publication.

The organisers intend to publish with UCL Press, who have expressed interest in this proposal, as this would allow the papers to be made freely available online as well as in print. The published volume will include most of the papers presented at the conference, but it is expected that papers will be re-worked to benefit from discussion during the conference.

Inca terraces (background), farmers with chakitaklla (foreground)

All published papers must be an original piece of work. Most papers should use one or more case studies to illustrate the questions and theoretical issues being addressed. Published papers will need to clearly explain how their research methods address theoretical and cultural issues, and be written in a way that will make them accessible to readers working outside the geographical focus of the volume.

The volume will include an introduction outlining previous research into Andean Technology and highlighting questions for debate, as well as a final section with three short critical commentaries by Pierre Lemonnier, Ian Freestone and a researcher working in the Andes.

Conference Practicalities

Participants will have to find their own funding for their travel and accommodation. If needed the organisers can help to find suitably priced accommodation close to UCL and the BM for participants.


Inca Wall in Pumacocha, Peru

Space for the round table discussion and conference dinner are limited and will be prioritised for those presenting papers or posters. 

Graduate students with valid ID from any university will not be charged to attend the conference presentations (although numbers are limited by the size of the lecture room). The organisers also welcome offers of papers from graduate research students, who have suitable data and are exploring ideas relevant to the conference theme, please note the stage you are at in your studies when submitting your abstract.

Venue: Bloomsbury, London

The conference will be held in the main lecture theatre of the UCL Institute of Archaeology, and the round-table discussion will be held at Senate House, University of London. During the conference a tour within the British Museum highlighting Andean material will be given by the curator Jago Cooper.

Supported by

The conference organisers are pleased to acknowledge the support of the following organisations:

Logo of the Peruvian Embassy in LondonInstitute for Latin American Studies logoJFIGS logoAnglo Peruvian Society logoIAMS logo
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