Northern Argentina is a region with a vast cultural heritage, specially if we look at it from an archaeological or anthropological point of view. Different organizations from Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Perú, Ecuador and Colombia joined in 2002 to support the research, conservation and awareness on one of the most complex communication networks humanity has ever heard of.
Qhapaq Ñan (or main road) was one of the key resources of the Inca empire, the Tahuantinsuyu. It extends throughout the Andean region, which is why the Argentine Northwest houses many archaeological sites that allow us to understand more about how these peoples lived. In 2014, and thanks to this joint effort, the Inca Road was declared World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
The Incas took advantage of the previously existent infrastructure and took it to a whole new level; it was not only the most important communication network in the continent but also a huge demonstration of their power and authority. The road had reached its summit by the 15th century, uniting all of the region under the Inca economic and cultural system until the Spanish conquerors came.
The over 30000 kilometers that make up Qhapaq Ñan cross all sorts of environments: arid deserts, jungles, forests and 6000 meters high mountains, where many burial sites were found. Many of this sites can be found in the Argentine Northwest and are great places to learn more about the pre hispanic cultures.
One of the most important sites is Llullaillaco volcano. Located in the limit between Salta province and Chile, this is the place where one of the most important findings of the last decades took place: three frozen children were found in excellent conditions and are now displayed with many other discovered objects at the MAAM (High Altitude Archaeology Museum). This is a must seen when visiting Salta since it is one of the most innovative museums in the world, allowing the visitors to choose if they want to see the bodies displayed in chambers that imitate the conditions in which they were found.
Santa Rosa de Tastil is home to the ruins of the biggest pre-Columbian city in present day Argentina, a strategic point between the Puna and Calchaquí Valleys. It is possible to visit a small museum with a very interesting collection about a civilization that disappeared under mysterious circumstances.
There are also many important sites around Cachi like La Paya and plenty of important cave paintings and engraved stones. The Pablo Díaz Archaeological Museum is located in front of the main square and offers a wide collection of findings from the Nevado de Cachi sites such as Uña Tambo.
Jujuy also has an important patrimony, with the Tilcara’s Pucará as the main discovery in the area. At above 2500 meters, this reconstructed fortress allows the visitors to recreate and imagine the ways of life and traditions of the old inhabitants. Thanks to the Buenos Aires University and the hardworking ethnographers and archaeologists of the 20th century, this is one really impressive place to see if you travel to the Quebrada de Humahuaca.
There are hundreds of archaeological sites throughout this gorge such as El Alfarcito, Peñas Blancas, Inca Cueva (covered with ancient paintings) or Huachichocana, one of the earliest settlements in all of South America.
To the South, in the province of Tucumán, there are sites such as El Pichao, Quilmes or Tafí del Valle. In the latest, huge carved stones known as menhires were found and can be visited in El Mollar.
Northern Argentina is, without a doubt, a region of huge archaeological richness and is a constant invitation to learn about its ancient culture and participate in the protection and spreading of these knowledge. Archaeological heritage belongs to every citizen of Argentina, represents our history and identity and is everyone’s job to take care of it.