Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino

Cultures > Arid North > Hunter gatherers and coastal fishermen



These coastal hunter-gatherer-fishers adapted to their environment over centuries, developing a specialized economy that took full advantage of the resources available to them. Around 2000 BCE, the northernmost groups began to practice basic farming, using arable land in the coastal valleys. In contrast, the isolated populations of the riverless desert coast did not adopt farming and herding but maintained and perfected their ancestral way of life. The increasing complexity of the societies of the Atacameña area, which was closely tied to the traffic of goods with llama caravans, strongly influenced the culture of these early fishing communities. Those inland groups visited the coast regularly to trade a rich and varied range of products for dried fish and shellfish, which led to a more complex material culture among coastal groups and the addition of cultivated plants to their diet. Around the year 1450 CE, the Inka conquerers also arrived on these coasts, bringing finely crafted status goods, which they traded with the local inhabitants for fish, shellfish, and guano to use as fertilizer on their crops. In historic times, these coastal communities were known as the Changos or Camanchacas. Today, the name denotes not so much a particular ethnic group as the traditional way of life practiced by these coastal fishing communities of northern Chile, regardless of their ethnic identity.