Mercury and the Making of the Andean Market: An Archaeological Study of Indigenous Labor in Colonial Peru
Smit, Douglas Karel
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This dissertation examined the relationship between emerging markets, colonial states, and indigenous labor in Colonial Peru (AD 1572–1824). Studies of markets, states and societies are a pressing issue for the social sciences, notably in an effort to understand the roots and ongoing expansion of an increasingly globalized economy. Archaeology is uniquely suited to provide a deeper historical context to this research, by studying how goods have been exchanged over the centuries and illuminating the long-term trajectories of past economic systems. Specifically, this study investigated the role of indigenous labor in the colonial markets of Huancavelica, the largest mercury mine in the Americas and one of the critical centers of early globalization between the 16th and 18th centuries. More broadly, this project builds relationships with descendant indigenous communities to assist their ongoing application for Huancavelica to be classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Consequently, this project presents an excellent opportunity to publish and initiate interdisciplinary and international dialogues beyond the traditional bounds of academia, further underscoring the role of archaeological research as an essential tool for understanding the role of markets in the past and present. The central question of this research asked how the growth of colonial markets over three centuries impacted the social organization of indigenous laborers and their larger political relationships with the Spanish colonial state. Initially, the Spanish colonial state forced indigenous communities to supply labor for the mines, but as Huancavelica grew as a commercial center, new economic systems such as wage labor and commodity markets increasingly dominated the region. As a critical node for trade networks that extended from Bolivia to the Peruvian Coast, and eventually across the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, Huancavelica presents an ideal location to compare and contrast distinct yet overlapping economic systems over an extended time period. By tracing how household goods were produced, traded, and eventually acquired by indigenous laborers in the midst of a rapidly developing market system, this project revealed the broader impacts of economic change on social and political relationships.
SubjectPolitical Economy, Markets, Colonialism, Archaeology, Andes