Geo-archaeology of miningscapes in the Atacama Desert. The sociomateriality of water during the nitrate mining boom, Tarapacá, Chile (1810-1920)

Authors: Manuel Mendez*, Université de Rennes 2
Topics: Water Resources and Hydrology, Cultural and Political Ecology, Historical Geography
Keywords: Atacama Desert, Water, Geo-archaeology, Sociomateriality
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/8/2021
Start / End Time: 11:10 AM / 12:25 PM
Room: Virtual 37
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Historically, the Atacama Desert has been known as the driest place on earth. Despite this condition, the area located in northern Chile is also a world hot spot for metallic and non-metallic mining. The large volumes of water involved in mining are withdrawn from fossil aquifers, causing serious socio-environmental impacts and conflicts. Scholars have explored these issues in the last three decades, however long-term perspectives have been neglected. This research contribute geo-archaeological and geo-historical perspectives to deepen the understanding of these struggles. Through the review of regional and national historical archive funds, and terrain campaigns, the entanglements of technologies and everyday practices around water (sociomaterialities) were reconstructed. In doing so we analyze the radical changes in the use and conception of water related to the nitrate mining boom (mid-19th and early 20th centuries) in the mining territories or miningscapes of Tarapac√°.

The cutting-edge technologies of water extraction/conduction introduced by industrial mining produced new everyday practices on the liquid. These processes occurs at the same time that modern discourses about water (scientific and legal) were produced in the Atacama Desert. For instance, water become an abstract element and a commodity in Chilean society. These new sociomaterialities of water produced uneven access conditions, leaving apart local thoughts and indigenous knowledges and uses of water, laying the groundwork for water struggles. From a broader perspective, the study of long-term sociomaterialities is shown as an alternative in the analysis of current socio-environmental conflicts around water, particularly in andean mining territories and/or desert zones.

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