The impact of expanding civilization on the health of American indigenous societies has long been studied. Most studies have focused on infections and malnutrition that occurred when less complex societies were incorporated into more complex civilizations. The details of dietary change, however, have rarely been explored. Using the analysis of starch residues recovered from coprolites, here we evaluate the dietary adaptations of indigenous farmers in northern Chile's Atacama Desert during the time that the Inka Empire incorporated these communities into their economic system. This system has been described as "complementarity" because it involves interaction and trade in goods produced at different Andean elevations. We find that as local farming societies adapted to this new asymmetric system, a portion of their labor had to be given up to the Inka elite through a corvée tax system for maize production. In return, the Inka system of complementarity introduced previously rare foods from the Andean highlands into local economies. These changes caused a disruption of traditional communities as they instituted a state-level economic system on local farmers. Combined with previously published infection information for the same populations under Inka rule, the data suggest that there may have been a dual health impact from disruption of nutrition and introduction of crowd disease.

Document Type


Publication Date


Notes/Citation Information

Published in PLoS ONE, v. 4, no. 11, e8069.

© 2009 Vinton et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)


Included in

Anthropology Commons