Luís Bettencourt, Kaitlyn Davis, José Lobo, Scott Ortman, Michael Smith, Aaron Trumbo

Paper #: 16-04-008

There is a longstanding debate in anthropology and history regarding the extent to which the determinants of past social and 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 apply settlement scaling theory to show that changes in the material conditions of life derived primarily from increases in the scale and intensity of local socioeconomic interactions. Our results thus suggest that intensification of human social connectivity and material flows—typically via the growth of settlements—can be sufficient to raise living standards in a variety of contexts.