Social Science Research Council Research AMP Mediawell

Mining and the Living Materiality of Mountains in Andean Societies

Carreño, Guillermo Salas
Journal of Material Culture

This article explores indigenous Andean perspectives on the relationship between mining and mountains. It briefly elaborates on how, in Andean worlds, mountains are intentional agents that are crucial members of society. Paying central attention to the materiality of these beings, the article compares the different social logics at play in, on the one hand, contexts of underground mining and, on the other, those of the recent open-pit mines. Using ethnographic data from Cuzco and Ancash (Peru) as well as previous ethnographies of mining practices in Bolivia and Peru, the article analyses how underground mining involved indigenous workers and practices that engaged the mined earth-beings. In contrast, in recent open-pit mines, there are very few workers from the surrounding communities, and indigenous practices engaging earth-beings became invisible. Underground mining is assumed to damage and threaten the fertility of the mined earth-beings but it is not seen as endangering their existence. In contrast, recent open-pit mines are only made possible by destroying earth-beings and extracting metal from their corpses.