|The Thorny Oyster and the origins of Empire: Implications of recently uncovered Spondylus imagery from Chan Chan, Peru|Pillsbury, J. (1996). The Thorny Oyster and the origins of Empire: Implications of recently uncovered Spondylus imagery from Chan Chan, Peru. Latin Am. Antiq. 7(4): 313-340
In: Latin American Antiquity. Society for American Archaeology: Washington, DC. ISSN 1045-6635, more
Archaeology; Historical account; Spondylus Linnaeus, 1758 [WoRMS]; ISE, Peru [Marine Regions]; Marine
The acquisition and use of exotic, valuable, and ritually important elite goods is a prominent feature of many imperial political economies. After an extensive review of the archaeological and documentary sources on one specific valuable in the empire of Chimor, this paper analyzes the visual representation of such goods, an aspect seldom addressed by archaeologists. An architectural relief recently excavated at Chan Chan, the capital of Chimor, sheds new light on the use of exotic materials and long-distance trade and exchange along the Pacific coast of South America in the late Prehispanic period. This relief, named "Los Buceadores" (The Divers) for the principal imagery depicting Spondylus divers, is important for elucidating the role of this valuable in the early development of the Chimú empire. It is argued that the Chimú rulers sponsored a long-distance exchange network during an early stage of the expansion of the Chimú polity and that the fruits of this network, particularly Spondylus, formed a critical element in the formation and maintenance of the ritual and economic basis of power for the expanding state.