Alicia Boswell will be giving a Brown Bag Lunch presentation on Wednesday, October 5 at 12 pm. Her talk is entitled “Luxury Object Artisans in the Ancient Andes: Coca and Metal Producers in Northern Peru, AD 200–1532.”


Alicia Boswell is the Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in Cultures of Conservation at Bard Graduate Center. She is an anthropological archaeologist who specializes in Pre-Columbian cultures. Her primary interest is examining the relationships between communities who produce luxury objects or resources and their imperial consumers. She is interested in the use and display of luxury items throughout their lifetimes—from production to engagement in ceremonies and feasts—and their symbolic roles in elite legitimization and political ideologies. She is involved in heritage preservation initiatives through Mobilizing Opportunities for Community Heritage Empowerment (MOCHE Inc) and in 2016 co-organized the Primera Mesa Redonda de Trujillo sponsored by the Institute of Andean Research and MOCHE Inc. As a fellow at Bard Graduate Center, she will be working with the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s “Crucibles of Innovation Project,” a joint endeavor of the curatorial and conservation departments which will expand the lens of South American metallurgical studies and link the Met’s collection to a larger dialogue on metalworking technology and relationships throughout the Americas.

In this talk, Boswell will discuss the role of two luxury commodities in Ancient Andean societies, coca and metals, what is and is not known about the producers of these goods, and approaches to their study. The ethnohistorical and archaeological records indicate that luxury objects and resources were key elements to political and religious legitimization. Much of the knowledge about the consumption of coca and metals comes from depictions of the objects themselves, but missing is critical data about the conditions of producer communities who made these objects, their technical skills, and their role in Andean society. Boswell will discuss what is known about each of these prestige goods, past and future approaches to their study, and the significance of understanding luxury production communities in the Ancient Andes. Studying these two commodities synthetically illustrates nuances that otherwise would not be observed.