Follow the Stones: Explorations in the High Andes

Submitted by: David Reid

Program: Anthropology

My studies at UIC have led me to explore ancient road networks and caravan routes in the high Andes of southern Peru. This photo, taken at 13,450 feet above sea level, captures a number of apachetas, or stone cairns that mark key mountain passes between the highlands and lower valleys. As a ritual of travel, passersby will often build or add a stone to these cairns while making offerings of prayer, coca leaf, and hard spirits to ensure safe voyage and relieve fatigue.

My research utilizes contemporary geospatial tools to model ancient travel routes in relation to known prehistoric sites, resources and terrain, as well as sacred locations such as the glaciated volcanic dome–Nevado Coropuna–seen in the background. In the shadow of Coropuna, Ice-age hunter gatherers once lived in rock-shelter caves, the domestication of camelids would give rise to long-distance caravans, and the Inca Empire expanded its road system and hegemony southward across much of South America. These cairns still guide modern llama caravans that carry trade goods across the elevated plains, always in sight of this landscape imbued with ancient and contemporary meaning.