• Environment and Geography

    In the inland sector of Antofagasta Province in the north of Chile, the Pampa rises gently to the East, forming a sloped plain that reaches up to the Altiplano or Puna. The Tilocalar communities lived in the ravines that run down from this foothill zone and the oases that formed at their base, along the edge of the Atacama Salt Flat.

  • Economy

    These early pastoralists had an economy based mainly on the raising of llama herds, which supplied them with meat, skins and wool, as well as bone for making instruments. Despite their herding activities, hunting of wild camelids continued to be important, as did gathering fruit from algarrobo, chañar and cactus. In the oases they grew peppers, squash, and maize, though still on a very small scale.

  • Art

    The Tilocalar groups were the first in the region to produce ceramics, manufacturing mainly domestic vessels, which they polished and decorated with incised geometric designs. They also crafted objects from bone and made necklace beads with copper and sea shells. They used their knowledge of copper and gold metallurgy to produce finely crafted prestige goods, and engraved stone drinking vessels with llamas having human forms con figuras de llamas con formas humanas. The rock art of this period, known as the Taira-Tulán style, features large engravings of life-like camelids with four legs that were generally placed in highly visible locations on ravine walls at river confluences or close to freshwater sources.

  • Social Organization

    The development of villages with ceremonial architecture and the proliferation of new subsistence activities suggest an increase in social complexity among the Tilocalar groups. They certainly had a specialized division of labor and probably had begun to see groups of authority emerge in their society. Such groups may have been linked to ceremonial activities and to control of the growing trade in food and prestige goods that the groups carried on with other communities of the region.

  • Beliefs and Funeral Rites

    In the Tulán ravine, south of the Atacama Salt Flat, the Tilocalar erected a monumental stone ceremonial site where they performed foundation rites involving the burial of newborn infants accompanied by exotic goods and gold offerings. These were covered over successively in later ritual activities. The Tilocalar located their cemeteries close to their villages and buried the dead on their sides with knees bent and accompanied by their most prized possessions as grave goods.

  • Settlement Pattern

    The Tilocalar were herding and horticulturalist societies that did not completely abandon their previous nomadic way of life but combined a stable village life with seasonal journeys to the high Puna and the foothill oases. Their most well-established settlements had stone walls and were located in ravines most suitable for pasturing llamas. At the foothill oases they used more perishable materials to construct semi-permanent camps, taking advantage of river runoff for their horticultural activities. They complemented this way of life by gathering firewood and fruit from local algarrobo and chañar species. In the high Puna the Tilocalar groups erected temporary camps in summer, when they journeyed to collect stones for their instruments as well as Andean flamingo eggs. These communities also constructed the region’s first public buildings, which were obviously ceremonial, exemplified in the semi-underground temple complex of Tulán.

  • History

    The Tilocalar groups inherited the ancient traditions of the Archaic hunter-gatherers. Eight millennia living in close proximity with camelids enabled them to domesticate these creatures and begin a new pastoral way of life. Some similarities in their ceramic industry suggest trade links with contemporary groups on the eastern side of the Andes, in northwest Argentina, and possible ideological influences from the Altiplano communities of Chiripa and Wankarani, near Lake Titicaca. Nevertheless, the complexity reflected in the Tilocar’s village-based and pastoral way of life seems to have been the result of more local processes. Around 400 BCE, the settlement pattern of these groups changed when they began to occupy the oasis of San Pedro de Atacama more intensively, complementing their pastoral way of life with more intensive farming. This development ushered in the following cultural period, known as the Late Formative.