Azapa

arido
  • Environment and Geography

    The Azapa groups inhabited the desert coast of Chile’s far north and the nearby valleys of Azapa, Lluta and Camarones, especially near freshwater marshes close to the coast and on fluvial terraces.

  • Economy

    The economy of the Azapa cultural communities was based on fishing, hunting of marine mammals and gathering of mollusks and terrestrial plants. Their diet also included agricultural produce such as arrowroot and peppers, which they grew in small plots using pointed sticks as tools to work the land.

  • Art

    The Azapa communities were the first in the North of Chile to manufacture ceramics, though they produced only a little. They used cotton and camelid hair to weave blankets and bags decorated with linear designs. They also made lioncloths and headbands, which gave rise to the “turban wearer” tradition that characterized the groups living in Chile’s Norte Grande in those times. With plant fibers they manufactured mats, loincloths and baskets, which they decorated with stepped designs. The Azapa also engraved images of serpents on gourds and copper plates, crafted tubular ornaments out of bone and made wooden-bead necklaces. They also decorated the objects that they used to inhale hallucinogenic substances.

  • Social Organization

    The introduction of farming practices and the consolidation of village life led to an increasing social complexity in these societies. This new way of life required more social organization and the division of its members into groups, each with its specific tasks—fishing, hunting, gathering, growing, and manufacturing of crafts and implements. Among these, a small elite group capable of directing these increasingly complex economic and religious activities may have formed.

  • Beliefs and Funeral Rites

    The Azapa people abandoned the ancient techniques of artificial mummification practiced by the older Chinchorro communities, and buried their dead in oval-shaped graves, which they covered with mats, layers of plants and sand, sometimes using sticks implanted as grave markers. They laid the bodies on their sides, wrapped in blankets, with heads turbaned, although some bodies were deposited without heads altogether. Alongside them they left a variety of grave goods that gives an indication of the range of objects these people manufactured. It is at this time that the first evidence of hallucinogenic plant consumption appears, reflecting the beginnings of an ideology in which shamans—religious experts able to communicate with the supernatural world by entering into a state of trace—would figure prominently.

  • Settlement Pattern

    The Azapa people were the first in the region to live in villages, which consisted of a few structures grouped together. Their dwellings were made of lightweight material such as logs and reeds, and were located near their fields, in the valleys and freshwater marshes near the coast.

  • History

    The Azapa people were the heirs of the coastal Archaic tradition and retained an economy based on marine resources, but they also introduced a new horticultural way of life and in the process were influenced by groups from distant lands. Some of the crops they adapted were first domesticated in the tropical lowlands, while new weaving techniques, cuneiform cranial deformation and serpent motifs on their textiles tell us of a possible cultural relation with the Parakas culture of the southern coast of Peru. As agricultural activities gained prominence among these groups with coastal economies, their way of life and ideology gradually shifted, giving way to a new cultural phase in the far north of Chile, known as Alto Ramírez.

Location

Period