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    Posted June 10, 2013 by
    Lima, Peru
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    I DON'T study dinosaurs!: Archaeology in Peru pt 2


           My research focuses on understanding the interaction between different coastal, highland and local groups in the Huanangue Valley, on the Western Slopes of the Andes in Peru. Specifically, I am trying to understand the relationship between intergroup interaction and agricultural production. This is important, because if we look at the state of the world today, tension over access to resources is one of the major causes of conflict around the world. The results of my research may help us to better understand why conflict arises in certain cases as well as what kinds of strategies are used by small scale groups to mitigate conflict and peacefully share resources.

            Interaction has been a focus of study in the social sciences since the early 20th century. Today, we know that there are several possible things that can happen when different groups interact, including balkanization, raiding and warfare, trade, alliance building, and the hybridization/syncretization of cultural traits. However, what we are still struggling to understand is why certain outcomes occur in certain cases instead of others. In other words, what are the initial conditions that make it more likely for warfare to occur as opposed to alliance building or peaceful co-residency?

             This is exactly what my research in the Huanangue Valley is trying to address, why is it that some groups are able to interact, co-habitat and share resources peacefully, whist others resort to violence? Clearly, this is a question that defies easy answers, and as such, my current research project is only the beginning of what I foresee to be about a 10 year long project, but it is at least a start. (Check out my current research project here: https://www.microryza.com/projects/feasting-interaction-and-the-middle-ground-understanding-local-geopolitics-through-agricultural-production)

                 Since the Huanangue Valley was completely unknown archaeologically, I started my research back in 2008 and 2009 through doing what is called archaeological survey. This means that I walked the landscape and documented the archaeological sites that I found. Of course, doing this is not as easy as it sounds. First, since I was only working with one other person at the time, it would have been physically impossible for us to walk 100% of the area in the region that I was interested in studying in the amount of time that we had available. Instead, I looked at aerial photographs taken by the Peruvian air force in the 1970’s to identity potential archaeological sites. I then cross references these photos with the geographic map that we had in order to figure out the approximate coordinates of each location. Finally, armed with a map, a GPS, and copies of the air photos, I would take a shared taxi (known locally as a colectivo) to different spots in the valley every day and look for the sites that I had located on the air photos.

               A vital part of this process was talking to local residents, first to get permission to trek through their land, and secondly to ask their advice as the best path to take to climb a particular hill or to ask them if they knew of any archaeological sites in the area (which are known locally as ruinas, pueblos viejos/de los gentiles, or huacarías). Doing so helped us not only to located the sites I had identified on the air photos more quickly, but also allowed us to document small sites that were not visible from the air.

               In fact, we found one of our most interesting and enigmatic sites this way. As we were waiting for our shared taxi to fill up one morning, my colleague and I were explaining to the driver and other passengers that we were archaeologists and that we were exploring the valley in order to document the local archaeological sites and this little old man started to excitedly tell us about the small site on a hilltop near his agricultural fields (he also insisted that this site was inhabited by enanos – dwarves – who, by his calculations, were only 80 cm high, but that is another story…..). Once the taxi arrived at his stop, he demanded that we get out with him. After crossing the river and arriving at his land, he pointed to a tall white hill, and said, “Climb that, I am too old to go with you, but just climb all the way to the top and you will find what I am talking about.”

                  So my colleague and I started making the hike up, and after four hours of grueling climbing, we finally reached the site that the old man had been talking about. The site consisted of a cluster of small circular structures (about 1.5 meters in diameter) and the surface of the site of covered in larger fragments of thick walled storage containers. To this day, I am not sure how to interpret this site. Based on the ceramics, it looks like the site was probably occupied either during the Late Intermediate Period (1100-1470 AD) or the Late Horizon (1470-1532 AD), however none of the ancient cultures from the region where I work built circular domestic structures. The placement of the settlement was odd. Hilltop settlements are usually understood as being defensive in nature, but as this particular site is located in the saddle between two peaks, it has essentially no visibility of the surrounding valley. Furthermore, there were no sources of water at the site, so whoever was living here would have had to trek down to the valley bottom every day to fetch water – not something that you would probably what to be doing if you were worried about attack. As such, my current hypothesis is that this site may have served as a temporary living space for foreigner workers that may have come into the valley seasonally to assist with agricultural tasks, however this is something that I still have to verify with excavations. (If any of you have any other ideas about what could have been going on here, please let me know in the comments!)

              After two seasons of survey work, my colleague and I documented a total of 20 different archaeological sites, dating from the Late Archaic Period (3200-1800 BC) through Late Horizon (1470-1532 AD). For the Late Intermediate Period, (the time period I research) we documented 10 sites belonging to three different cultural groups (Chancay, local Huanangue Valley groups, and highland groups – possibly the Atavillos). Of particular interest, we documented evidence for extensive agricultural production at this time, but did not see any evidence for conflict. I will my ideas about why there is so little contact in the valley next time, in part 3 when I talk about what we found during excavations at some of these sites.




    Appeal to Readers: if you like my series, please consider donating to my research fund here: https://www.microryza.com/projects/feasting-interaction-and-the-middle-ground-understanding-local-geopolitics-through-agricultural-production. 100% of the proceeds will be used towards soil sample, radio carbon analysis, and publication costs.

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