1. University of Virginia
  2. Arts & Sciences

Sonia Alconini

David A. Harrison III Professor of American Archaeology

Brooks Hall, 204


I am an anthropological archaeologist who specializes in the rise of sociopolitical complexity in ancient pre-Columbian societies. Originally from Bolivia, I have conducted research in the Andes for several decades. I am particularly interested in exploring the frontiers of the Inka empire, and the ways in which these contested spaces affected on the dynamics of ancient borderland populations. Multidisciplinary in nature, my research draws from archaeology and ethnohistory in order to assess the materiality of colonial encounters, and the mechanics of ancient imperialism. I believe that the use of different scales of analysis --ranging from the region, community and household levels--, are important to tease out the complexity of imperial and indigenous encounters and associated processes of settlement reorganization, trans-culturation, rebellion, social stratification and ethnogenesis.

My initial research centered on the Southeastern Inka frontier, where the Inka confronted the belligerent Guaraní-Chiriguano tribes from the tropical lowlands. Described as savages and barbarians, they invaded and ransacked many Inka frontier fortifications in search for the mythical Candire. The results of this investigation were published in Southeastern Inka Frontiers: Boundaries and Interaction (University of Florida Press, 2016). In the following years, I expanded my research in the Apolobamba region to the east of the Titicaca basin, which was inhabited by the Kallawaya travelling shamans and herbal healers. Valued allies of the Inka empire, the Kallawaya became crucial in the imperial expansion into the eastern tropics. For over several years, this research comprised regional-scale pedestrian surveys over the rugged mountains, including excavations at several sites. These excavations also provided valuable information on the ways in which the pristine state of Tiwanaku expanded over such valuable territories.  The results of this research were published in several venues including the Oxford Handbook of the Incas (University of Oxford Press, 2018) that my colleague Alan Covey and I co-edited, and Distant Provinces in the Inka Empire: Toward a Deeper Understanding of Inka Imperialism (University of Iowa Press, 2010, co-edited with Michael Malpass).

I am now excited to start a new project in the Inka center of Samaipata, an Inka frontier installation inscribed in the World Heritage list by the UNESCO. This site is unique for having one of the largest ritual ushnu platforms in this pre-Columbian empire. I plan in the following years to conduct a regional-scale pedestrian survey to reconstruct the associated settlement dynamics.


Ancient imperialism and empires, settlement patterns, frontier dynamics, household archaeology, Andean-Amazonian interactions and GIS applications in archaeology.

Selected Publications

2018   Oxford Handbook of the Incas. Co-edited with R. Alan Covey. University of Oxford Press. 

2016   The Southeastern Inka Imperial Frontier: Warfare, Boundaries and Frontier Interaction. University Press of Florida.

2016   Entre la Vertiente Tropical y los Valles: Sociedades Regionales e Interacción Prehispánicas en los Andes Centro-Sur. Plural Editorial.

2015   En el Corazón de América del Sur: Arqueología de las Tierras Bajas de Bolivia y Zonas Limítrofes, Volumen 3. Edited by Sonia Alconini and Carla Jaimes. Biblioteca del Museo de Historia-Universidad Autónoma Gabriel René Moreno (UAGRM), Santa Cruz.

2010   Distant Provinces in the Inka Empire: Toward a Deeper Understanding of Inka Imperialism. Edited by Michael Malpass and Sonia Alconini. University of Iowa Press, Iowa.

2018   Violence, Power, and Head Extraction in the Kallawaya Region, Bolivia. In Head Transformations in Native Mesoamerica and the Andes. Identity, Power, and Embodiment, pp. 235-252. Ed. by María Cecilia Lozada and Vera Tiesler. University of New Mexico Press (co-authored with Sara K. Becker).

2018   Inca Advances into the Southeastern Tropics: The Inca Frontiers in Perspective. In The Oxford Handbook of the Incas, edited by Sonia Alconini and Ronald Alan Covey, pp. 413-434: Oxford University Press.

2015   Head extraction, inter-regional exchange, and political strategies of control in the Kallawaya territory of Bolivia during the late Formative to Tiwanaku period transition (AD 500-800). Latin American Antiquity, 26(1):30-48. Co-authored with Sara K. Becker.

2010   Alliances and Local Prestige: Yampara Households and Communal Evolution in the Southeastern Inka Peripheries. In Distant Provinces in the Inka Empire: Toward a Deeper Understanding of Inka Imperialism. Edited by Michael Malpass and Sonia Alconini. University of Iowa Press, Iowa.

2008   Dis-embedded Centers and Architecture of Power in the Fringes of the Inka Empire: New Perspectives on Territorial and Hegemonic Strategies of Domination. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 27:63-81.

2004   The Southeastern Inka Frontier Against the Chiriguanos: Structure and Dynamics of the Inka Imperial Borderlands. Latin American Antiquity 15(4):389-418.

Department Faculty

Sonia Alconini
David A. Harrison III Professor of American Archaeology
Ira Bashkow
Goldsmith Family NEH Distinguished Teaching Professor, 2018-2021: Associate Professor
Frederick H. Damon
Eve Danziger
Professor and Chair; Affiliated Faculty: Linguistics Program; Cognitive Science Program
Lise Dobrin
Associate Professor & Director of the Interdepartmental Program in Linguistics
Gertrude Fraser
Associate Professor
Richard Handler
Professor & Director of Global Development Studies Program
James Igoe
Kasey Jernigan
Assistant Professor of Anthropology and American Studies
Adria LaViolette
Professor, Director of Undergraduate Studies
Daniel Lefkowitz
Associate Professor
George Mentore
Associate Professor
Rachel Most
Associate Dean for Undergraduate Academic Programs & Professor
Fraser D. Neiman
China Scherz
Associate Professor, Director of Graduate Studies
Mark Sicoli
Assistant Professor, Director of Graduate Admissions
Margaret Smith
Director & Curator, The Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection
Sylvia Tidey
Assistant Professor
Patricia Wattenmaker
Associate Professor
Kath Weston
Jarrett Zigon
William & Linda Porterfield Chair in Biomedical Ethics and Professor of Anthropology