Comparative studies by Erland Nordenskiöld in the early years of this century suggest that the Macro-Guaicuruans are descendants of the first immigrants to South America. They were well established in the Gran Chaco before the Guaraní immigration in the sixteenth century and the arrival of the Spanish in the seventeenth. The first recorded contact between the Mataco and the Spaniards took place in 1628, but White penetration was slow, and the area cannot be considered to have been fully "colonized" until after the Chaco War (1932-1936).
Archaeological, ethnographic, and linguistic evidence show that the Mataco had extensive, early contacts with the Andean peoples, chiefly with the Quechua. In historical times, the Mataco traded with and worked for the Chiriguano. During the late nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth, they migrated to the cane mills of northern Argentina. Nevertheless, they have exchanged fairly little by way of language and culture with other peoples. In most parts of their territory, the Mataco have resisted integration or interacted very reluctantly with the Whites and the mestizos. This attitude has made them the object of numerous negative evaluations by development planners, missionaries, and the local population.