Mapping memories without subjects: An archaeological approach to the study of the dispossession of the San Pedro de Inacaliri River (Atacama Desert, Chile)

Authors: Manuel Prieto*, Universidad Catolica del Norte
Topics: Water Resources and Hydrology, Latin America, Mountain Environments
Keywords: Atacama, Chile, Water, Archeology, Material Culture, Mapping, Water Conflicts, Indigenous people, Pastoralism
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/4/2019
Start / End Time: 1:10 PM / 2:50 PM
Room: Embassy Room, Omni, East
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Copper extraction in the Atacama Desert is a major threat to water resources. Herders in the area suffered the irreversible degradation of the of the San Pedro de Inacaliri River basin which sustained their activities since time immemorial. One Atacameño Indigenous community affected by these impacts requested a research team of geographers and archaeologist to map the desiccation of the river, the total abandonment of the basin by the herders, and the memories about this process. However, most of the herders who suffered the impacts have either died or migrated into urban centers. This situation posed a methodological dilemma: How is it possible to map memories about the process of water dispossession when few people are available to share their living stories? To address this challenge, we draw on archaeological methods for visibilizing the ruination of this basin. Results Results question the idea that memory loss is necessarily associated with ecological collapse. On the contrary, we have realized that more than eroding memory understood as something fixed in the past, this mapping exercise was a process of memory formation among community members that haven’t been in the San Pedro River before. Seeing the results and touching the abandoned objects provoke a unique connection with this waterscape. In this sense, while the common understanding of archaeological mapping is seen as fixing a pre-hispanic past, our results invites to use maps to mobilize the recent past against injustice and the dispossession.

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