The life-histories of gold artefacts can provide rich insight into technology and culture, but so far the potential of this research approach has not been exploited in the south central Andes. Here we present the analysis of 34 gold and silver objects from the Middle Period cemetery of Casa Parroquial (San Pedro de Atacama, northern Chile), using pXRF, SEM-EDS, PIXE and digital microscopy. Chemical analyses detected variable compositions (2.4–73.1 per cent Ag and 0.2–3.4 per cent Cu) suggesting that artisans used both native gold and artificial gold-silver-copper alloys. Based on their manufacturing techniques, quality and designs, we identify two working styles, one technically more ‘careful’ than the other. Given their elemental and technological variety, together with the lack of local production evidence, we propose that these artefacts were imported as finished objects from Tiwanaku or Cochabamba and northwest Argentina. However, we identify a series of objects that were modified or reshaped as they entered a new cultural context, revealing complex life-histories. Modifications used relatively simple mechanical means: punching, cutting and folding, most likely made in multi-craft contexts by non-metallurgists from San Pedro.