Settlement scaling and economic change in the Central Andes

Scott G. Ortman, Kaitlyn E. Davis, Jose Lobo, Michael Smith, Luis M A Bettencourt, Aaron Trumbo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

40 Scopus citations


There is a longstanding debate in anthropology and history regarding the extent to which the determinants of past economic change are similar in any specific ways to those that operate today. In this paper, we examine the extent to which increasing returns to settlement scale in material outputs, which are apparent in contemporary urban systems, also operated in the Late Pre-Hispanic Tarma and Mantaro drainages of the Peruvian Central Andes. Proxy measures for material outputs across settlements and households show that this region experienced a marked economic expansion following its incorporation into the Inka Empire ca. 1450 CE. We argue that these changes in living standards are consistent with expectations of an emerging framework known as settlement scaling theory that specifies relationships between human aggregation, social connectivity and material outputs. Our results suggest that intensification of human social connectivity and material flows—as measured through settlement size distributions—can be sufficient to raise living standards even in the absence of markets.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)94-106
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Archaeological Science
StatePublished - Sep 1 2016


  • Aggregation
  • Andes
  • Economic change
  • Inka empire
  • Settlement scaling
  • Wanka

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Archaeology
  • Archaeology


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