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Four Main Stages of Occupation in Valle Perdido

In 2015 Discover   Archaeology magazine received a funding request from well-known archaeologist Dr. Ivana Trowel, who wanted to investigate the history of human settlement in the Valle Perdido. The Valle Perdido is an isolated area in the Western cordillera of the Andes Mountains in South America. The magazine, aware of reports of pyramids and elaborate tombs in the region, provided her with research funds. The editors were confident that her work would result in dramatic photos and interesting discoveries that would grace the pages of Discover Archaeology. Unfortunately, Dr. Trowel disappeared mysteriously before her work could be completed. Her assistants, convinced that she was the victim of an ancient curse, all quit the project, changed careers and have refused any contact with magazine staff. All the magazine has to show for its generous research grant is Dr. Trowel’s field notes.

Below you will find summaries of the results of Dr. Trowel’s survey of the Valle Perdido and her excavations at the large site known locally as La Pirámide, which are drawn from e-mails she sent to Mr. M. Bellish, editor in chief of Discover Archaeology. There are also notes available regarding the skeletal remains Dr. Trowel recovered; they will be dealt with in your other assignment. The notes are followed by a sequence of questions that require you to interpret the information in the notes in the context of what you are learning in class and in the labs/tutorials.

Based on 5 months of surveys by her 30 member team, Trowel believed there were four main stages of occupation in the Valle Perdido, which are summarized below. The dates for each period are estimates based on the timing of similar developments in neighbouring coastal areas. She documented a total of 30 sites, which are represented on the maps presented at the end of this section

Sites from this time period are small with few visible surface remains. They are identified by scatters of stone tools (spear heads, arrow heads etc.) and waste flakes from stone tool manufacture. There is no clear evidence of permanent dwellings on these sites, though some have stone hearths (fireplaces) and in some cases arrangements of rocks suggest wind breaks or hunting blinds. Where animal bones are visible, they are dominated by two species: guanaco and Andean Deer

Some sites from this period are very similar to Early Period sites. However, others are somewhat larger, and include the first evidence of adobe (mud brick) buildings. These larger sites include clusters of 3 to 10 rectangular single-room dwellings. All of the dwellings are of similar size and open onto a shared flat rectangular “patio” area, likely a shared space for group activities. On these sites, in addition to stone tools, pottery sherds are also common (white vessels with black decoration – “black on white ware”  a style that is not found in surrounding regions) and there are some examples of manos and metates (used for grinding plant foods such as maize). Food remains from these patio sites include guanaco and Andean Deer, and for the first time also llama and guinea pig bones and maize cobs. .

Adobe Architecture and Unique Ceramic Styles

Adobe architecture is found on all known sites from this time period. Site size is highly variable. Small sites are scattered across the valley floor, consisting of 3-12 rectangular adobe dwellings of roughly equal size, often arranged around a rectangular patio area. There are two larger centers, one towards the eastern end of the valley, another towards the west, both of which contain several hundred dwellings. These settlements are arranged around a large open patio area with a central pyramid mound. At these sites, dwellings vary in size, with several very large structures adjacent to the patio, and smaller structures towards the site periphery. The centrally located site La Pirámide stands out as the largest in the valley. The remains of over 1000 dwellings are visible on the site surface. A massive central plaza contains 5 flat-topped pyramids .Surface remains on sites from this period include manos and metates, black on white ceramics, maize and llama bones. Wild animal bones are rare except at La Pirámide. A new ceramic style appears throughout the valley which combines red, black and grey

decoration on finely made ceramics with elaborate handles (polychrome ware) . Decorative motifs are mainly mythological creatures and people in elaborate costumes. Andean deer also feature prominently. These ceramics are particularly abundant at La Pirámide. Ceramic styles known from neighbouring Lowland regions also appear for the first time and also present in small amounts. A handful of Spanish coins are known from this period and historic accounts indicate that Spanish traders occasionally travelled to the Valle Perdido from the coast in order to trade with a local “priest-king.”

This period begins with the founding of a Spanish Jesuit mission at the western end of the valley in 1656. A settlement of perhaps a hundred small rectangular adobe dwellings sprang up around the mission over the course of the period. La Pirámide appears to have been abandoned near the beginning of this period, as are many of the sites on the valley floor. Some small sites continue in use, and small sites with single adobe dwellings appear at higher elevations. Guanaco and Andean deer remains become important at all sites late in this period, and are found alongside llama and maize remains. The Spanish mission at the western end of the valley grows over the course of this period. Black on white ceramics with geometric designs and Spanish trade goods are well represented at all sites, and other trade goods all but disappear. Throughout the valley, graves are marked by crosses, which is unknown from earlier periods and there is a cemetery associated with the mission. Historic accounts suggest that Black-on-white ceramic vessels depicting maize, llamas, guanaco and deer are often included in these graves. The Jesuits abandoned the mission and returned to Spain in 1740.

Dwelling Structures and Their Artifacts and Food Remains

Dwelling 1

This is a large 8-room dwelling adjacent to the central plaza (Figure 8). The entire dwelling was excavated before Dr. Trowel’s disappearance. The largest room in the south-eastern corner of the dwelling contained a long rectangular adobe structure along its east wall which was filled with ash, charred animal bone and large amounts of charred maize. It was interpreted as a large hearth. The room also contained many pieces of broken Polychrome ceramics, fragments of Putumayo and Avoca wares (styles manufactured by Lowland groups in the Amazon Basin) and a single Spanish gold coin. Painted wall plaster was found along the southern wall of this room, decorated with depictions of seated men with elaborate head-dresses. Two small copper beads were identified in a room on the western side of the building, and a gold bracelet was uncovered in another small room on the building’s south-west corner. A stone spearhead was found near the main entrance on the eastern side of the structure. A room in the north-western corner of the dwelling had six adobe benches, each of which contained circular holes approximately 40 cm in diameter. One of these holes contained a large storage jar. Numerous other broken pieces of storage jar were found on the floor of the room. See Table 1 for the artifacts and food remains found in this Dwelling.

Table 1

ARTIFACTS

FOOD REMAINS

Ceramics

# fragments

Faunal

# fragments

Polychrome Ware

762

Camelid

640

Storage jar

1146

Llama

132

Black-on-white Ware

64

Guanaco

43

Putumayo Ware

21

Andean Deer

317

Avoca Ware

9

Capybara

28

Red Howler Monkey

4

Other

# items

Copper beads

2

Botanical

# specimens

Gold bracelet

1

Maize

893

Spanish coins

1

Spearheads

1

Dwelling 2

This is a small two-room dwelling on the western periphery of the site (Figure 8). The entire structure was excavated. Interior walls were undecorated. The single door was located in the south wall, and there was a rectangular hearth structure with charred food remains in the north-east corner. Fragments of Black-on-white Ware were found throughout the main room along with a handful of storage jar fragments, one piece of polychrome ware and several manos and metates. Two burials were found below the floor of the dwelling. One, located in the south- west corner of the main room, was an adult male buried on his right side with knees bent up to his chest, another located in

the north-west corner of the main room was an adult female in the same position, buried holding an infant. Each burial also contained a single Black-on-white ceramic bowl. The man’s bowl was decorated with stylized llamas and placed near his head, and the woman’s bowl was decorated with stylized maize cobs and placed at her feet. See Table 2 for the artifacts and food remains found in this Dwelling.

Table 2

ARTIFACTS

FOOD REMAINS

Ceramics

# fragments

Faunal

# fragments

Black-on-white Ware

87

Camelid

225

Storage jars

5

Llama

33

Polychrome Ware

1

Guinea pig

86

Other

# items

Botanical

# specimens

Manos

3

Maize

362

Metates

2

1) What are guanacos and llamas and what is the significance of their presence or absence during the different time periods? What does their presence or absence tell you about mobility and subsistence practices of the occupants of the Valle Perdido through time?

2) How do you think Dr. Trowel and her team surveyed the region? How would you interpret the changes in the number and location of sites through time?

3) What was going on in the two dwellings? What do the differences between the two dwellings tell you about the social structure of the Late Period society in the Valle Perdido? Place your discussion within the context of other available information.

4) What is a capybara? What does the presence of the capybara and Red Howler Monkey in Dwelling 1 tell you about the Late Period society in the Valle Perdido? What other information supports your answer?

5) Provide a brief overview of the cultural changes over time in the Valle Perdido, including a guess at why the Jesuits left in 1740.

Four Main Stages of Occupation in Valle Perdido

Guanaco is a camelid that is native to South America. Guanacos are known to occupy the arid mountainous regions. Due to the calm attitude of guanacos, they were domesticated for use as pack animals. On the other hand, Llamas are camelids that are traced back to North America 40 million years ago (Avilés, Montero, & Barros-Rodríguez, 2018). However, they later migrated to South America where they have been domesticated since the Pre-Columbian era. They have been used as pack animals by the natives for centuries especially the people of Andes Mountain.

The absence or presence of guanacos and llamas in different time periods shows the time they were domesticated. For instance, guanacos were present in the early period while llamas were not. However, llamas were found to be present in the Middle Age Period together with guanacos. Surprisingly, only llamas were present in the Late Period. Nevertheless, bone remains of these two animals were present in the Colonial Period. This shows that guanacos were the first to be domesticated and llamas came later since they are thought to be descendants of wild guanacos.

 Since, they were used mostly as pack animals, their presence demonstrates the movement of people from one region to another. Either movement for purposes of trade or carrying potatoes and maize they were cultivating. Also, it indicates their domestication for purposes of obtaining meat for food, wool and skin for making of clothes (Diaz-Lameiro, 2016). Absence of guanacos in the Late Period could signify that the people of Valle Perdido did not travel much. This could be connected to the fact that Spanish traders usually came to their region during this period.    

I believe Dr. Trowel and her team used surface survey to assess the area. This is because surface survey involves walking across the area of interest identifying surface features and artifacts. Also, it does not require special kind of equipment (Stein & Holliday, 2017). The survey results from Dr. Trowel indicated survey of various sites where she reported the surface remains that were visible. The surface survey also involves recording or collection of remains which are analyzed either for site location as well as location type. I also believe that they used sub-surface testing methods in order to determine the materials located slightly underneath the surface. This could have involved use of shovels, soil corers, and hand augurs. This enabled them to collect huge amounts of artefacts even those underneath the soil.

Adobe Architecture and Unique Ceramic Styles

Change in the number and locations of sites over time sheds light on the activities during the time. Also, it gives us more information regarding the development date of the artefacts. This is because, the features of an artefact such as style and shape changes through time (Trabert, 2019). Therefore, when an artefact reappears in another site in a different period, it can be easily dated back to its origin. Dr. Trowel findings show that in the Early Period, the site size was relatively small and were concentrated on the periphery. In the Middle Period the sites were bigger with their location ranging from periphery towards the patio area. In the Late Period the sites were bigger and many ending towards the patio area. The Colonial Era location were relatively smaller than the Late Period with some sites at higher elevations. This change could be attributed to Jesuits mission. This shows the change in livelihood of people. From living singly (single homesteads) to accepting to live as communal society.


Q3.

These two dwelling shows how the Valle Perdido people organized their houses. Dwelling 1 which was bigger showed that the people kept all their things in one house. For instance, there was a room where farm products and those from hunting were stored. Decorations on the inner walls illustrates the lively nature of the occupants. Also, copper beads, gold bracelets, and Spanish coins showed the wealthy nature of the occupants and also their ability to participate in trade. On the other hand, dwelling 2 showed the inhabitants lived a low life given the few number of food remains, storage of jar fragments, and lack of beads, bracelets, and coins. Also, the fact there were decorations showed the occupants did not have much interest on life. The burials also tell us the occupation of the people. Men were involved with llamas either using them for trade purposes, carrying things, or killing them for food. On the contrary women were involved in farm and house chores hence association with maize cobs.

These differences, therefore, show how the Late Period society was socially structured. Normally, during this period, houses were organized in agglutinated or organic manner (Guengerich, 2015). The dwelling 1 represents a spatial organization since it was an excavated house containing its own hearth and other rooms representing domestic activities. This showed that the basic social unit of the society was a single, physically independent house. Dwelling 1 represented a high-status sector specially on the ‘Upper Sector West’ which were mainly decorated. Dwelling 2, on the other hand, could represent a hilltop location where people of low community status lived. Also, the burials inside the house showed that their mortuary facilities were within the house. In contrary, in high-status sector, the cave burials are found outside the settlements (Guengerich, 2015).

Q4.

Dwelling Structures and Their Artifacts and Food Remains

Capybara is the largest rodent in the world weighing as much as a human being. Also known as Hydrochaeris hydrochaeris. They are native to South America mostly found on the tropical forested stretches. They normally eat their dung, they chew grass, and love to hang around water. They are social creatures usually found in family packs.

The presence of capybara and Red Howler Monkey in Dwelling 1 shows has the social aspect of the Late Period society in the Valle perdido. Capybaras are described as the most social rodents that love the company of many people. These means that the occupants of Dwelling 1 participated in social gatherings why several people met. Additionally, they are not only kept for social factors but also for meat as well as their hide. It has been shown that capybaras hide is a good leather for shoes and clothing. Similarly, Red Howler Monkeys are social animals. Their use in Valle perdido can be attributed to the fact they occur in neotropical South America only (Stafford, Preziosi, & Sellers, 2017). The presence of these animals could also indicate that the Late Period society was a ritualistic society. Usually, during ritual practices and communal gatherings, these animals could be involved since they love gatherings of people. The fact that fragments of Capybara were numerous compared to very few of Red Howler Monkey shows its importance in the Late Period society in Valle perdido. It had several benefits hence need to domesticate it.

Normally, there is no static culture. But it keeps evolving with time. The Early Period was characterized by a culture of hunting and gathering. This is depicted by many stone tools such as arrow heads and spear heads and remains of guanaco and Andean Deer. Lack of permanent dwellings indicated people kept on moving from place to place. In Middle Period, people had settled had built houses. However, they lived as a communal society (several houses in one region and an area for group activities). In addition to hunting, during this time, people started farming as designated by presence of maize cobs, manos and metates, and also engaged in pottery. During the Late Period, the culture is almost similar with the Middle Period. However, in addition, they participated in trade with the Spanish traders hence the presence of Spanish coins. Lastly, the culture of the people in the Colonial Period was significantly influenced by the Spanish Jesuit mission. Presence of crosses on the graves depicts their religious acts. They society had started to accept the culture of Christianity.

The Jesuits could have left in 1750 due to pressure they received from other nations globally. There were a lot of politics going on worldwide concerning Jesuits mission in South America. It was realized that they were not after spreading their religion and promoting virtue, not rather they were following after their own interests. Therefore, it could be that the Jesuits received hostility and resistance from the people during the Colonial Period hence decided to leave the mission.

References

Avilés, E., Montero, M., & Barros-Rodríguez, M. (2018). South American camelids: products and sub-products used in the Andean region. Actas Iberoamericanas de Conservación Animal, 11, 30-38.

Diaz-Lameiro, A. M. (2016). Evolutionary origins and domestication of South American camelids, the alpaca (Vicugna pacos) and the llama (Lama glama) explained through molecular DNA methods. State University of New York at Binghamton.

Guengerich, A. (2015). Settlement organization and architecture in late intermediate period Chachapoyas, Northeastern Peru. Latin American Antiquity, 26(3), 362-381.

Stafford, C. A., Preziosi, R. F., & Sellers, W. I. (2017). A pan-neotropical analysis of hunting preferences. Biodiversity and Conservation, 26(8), 1877-1897.

Stein, J. K., & Holliday, V. T. (2017). Archaeological stratigraphy. Encyclopedia of Geoarchaeology, 33-39.

Trabert, S. (2019). Reframing the Protohistoric Period and the (Peri) Colonial Process for the North American Central Plains. World Archaeology, 1-15.

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