Social and Economic Development of a Specialized Community in Chengue, Parque Tairona, Colombia

Alejandro Dever

PhD Thesis 2007

The primary intention of this research has been to establish how the specialized Tairona community of Chengue was formed and how social inequality plays a role in socio-economic change from 200BC to 1650AD. The main questions are organized around two opposing scenarios designed to test top-down and bottom-up processes for community formation. In the top-down scenario the community would be the result of an external agent that had sufficient authority to “create” a community with the intention to extract a highly concentrated resource, marine salt. In the alternative scenario, the bottom-up process, the community would become specialized as a result of a slower process in which the changes that led to specialization are the product of decisions of the individuals who resided in Chengue and natural environmental changes. Consequently specialization would have been the role of individual agents (individuals and households) at a very small scale. Although the observed sequence had components from both scenarios, the bottom-up process appears to be the primary force in the formation of a specialized community and the production of surplus that led to social inequality.

Study of soils, lagoon and coastal sediments, flora and fauna allowed the climatic reconstruction the last 2500 years. During this long span of time communal units larger than households but smaller than villages had great stability and appear to have been the motors of socio-economic change. The evidence from Chengue suggests that progressive specialization in the context of environmental limitations produced a group of people less well-off than others. Elites do not; however, appear to have had much range of political action during most of the sequence.