Atacama Desert

views updated Jun 11 2018

Atacama Desert

Atacama Desert, interior region of southern Bolivia, northern Chile, and northwestern Argentina, 8,250-13,200 feet in elevation. Considered the driest desert of the world, the Atacama expands along a series of elongated, flat-bottomed basins, the remnants of shallow lakes of Quaternary Age. Today, on the floors of the desiccated lakes, borax, natural salt, and nitrate deposits are mined. Along intermittent watercourses fed by the icecaps of Andean volcanoes, pastoral communities of Atacameño Indians were established about 5,000 years ago. They were skilled woodcarvers and expert wool and ceramic artisans who traded with the Incas and the Aymara (Tiahuanaco) Indians to the north and the Diaguitas to the south. Several towns in the Atacama Desert, such as Peine, San Pedro de Atacama, and Lasana, still bear the strong cultural imprints of the old Atacameño culture.

See alsoArgentina, Geography .


The classic work on this region is Isaiah Bowman, Desert Trails of Atacama (1924).

Additional Bibliography

Rivera, Mario A. Arqueología del desierto de Atacama: La etapa formativa en el área de Ramaditas/Guatacondo. Santiago: Universidad Bolivariana, 2005.

Vicuña Urrutia, Manuel. La imagen del desierto de Atacma (XVI-XIX): Del espacio de la disuación al territorio de los desafíos. Santiago: Editorial de la Universidad de Santiago de Chile, 1995.

                                    CÉsar N. Caviedes

Atacama Desert

views updated May 23 2018

Atacama Desert Desert of n Chile, stretching c.1000km (600mi) s from the Peru border. Despite its proximity to the Pacific Ocean it is considered to be the most arid in the world; some areas had no recorded rainfall in 400 years. Except where it is artificially irrigated, it is devoid of vegetation. Until the advent of synthetic fertilizers, the desert was extensively mined for sodium nitrate. Large deposits of copper and other minerals remain. Nitrates and iodine are extracted from the salt basins.