Pastoralism in the Andes over the last 5000 years

Dr Penny Dransart

What are the practices and processes that characterise pastoralism? Research  work by Penny Dransart has centred on pastoralism in the Andes examines interactions between humans and herd animals over a period of time from 5000 years ago up to the present. It explores how, in different social contexts in the South Central Andes, human owners and their herd animals have contributed to shape herding ways of life, and how they make the landscapes in which they conduct their herding activities. This investigation into the character and the long term viability or sustainability of herding has focused largely on the South American camelids (a group consisting of alpacas, llamas, vicuña and guanaco). It is unusual because the arid conditions in the Atacama Desert have preserved fleece and yarn remains, which are not usually available for archaeologists to study. It presents a direct study of the product for which the camelids were and still are highly valued: the fleece itself.

Stemming from this interest in fleece-bearing animals is my research into substances such as fibre, hair, colour, blood and water. I have studied the thematic and symbolic meanings of these elements as indicators of life and their uses in ritual practices. This research is sustained by fieldwork in the Andes undertaken since the mid-1980s.

Advisory panel member of British Museum project, ‘Andean textiles: organic colourants, biological sources and dyeing technologies’ (Leverhulme funded).

Funders of research include:

  • Leverhulme Trust
  • American Anthropologocal Association
  • Wrenner Gren

Through the work in this research area the School has active research links and collaborations with researchers and practitioners in:

Dransart, P. 2011 ‘Social principles of camelid pastoralism and archaeological interpretations’. In Ethnzoooarchaeology: The Present and Past of Human-animal Relationships, U. Albarella and A. Trentacoste, eds, 123-130.Oxford: Oxbow.

Dransart, P. 2010 ‘Animals and their possessions: properties of herd animals in the Andes and Europe’. In Animals and Science: Anthropological Approaches, M. Bolton and C. Degnen, eds., 84-104. Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

Dransart, P.Z. 2002/2014 Earth, Water, Fleece and Fabric: an Ethnography and Archaeology of Andean Camelid Herding. London: Routledge.