Recent theoretical work has underscored the importance of multiple strategies in the dynamic political and economic landscapes in which archaic states developed. This research emphasizes how the interaction among various non-state polities drives the growth of political centers within a region. It is in this context that numerous intermediate peer-polities emerged, and, on rare occasions in a few places around the world, it is the context of state development. War and trade have emerged as particularly important forms of strategic interaction in the theoretical literature, representing strategies of both cooperation and competition between and within complex, non-state polities. In this paper we present a detailed case study that tests and illustrates one of these theoretical propositions. We examine the role of trade in this process of social evolution as evidenced in the northern Titicaca Basin ca. 500 B.C.—A.D. 300. Based on intensive analyses of a large excavated data set, we suggest that the emergence of one regional center, called Taraco, is strongly linked to strategic participation in local and long-distance exchange networks.