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Uppsala universitet : Arkeologi och antik historia : Afrikansk och jämförande arkeologi : ULD-symposium : Abstracts

Abstracts: Marcos Michel

Central places formation at the southern Poopo lake basin

Marcos Rodolfo Michel López
San Andrés University
La Paz. Bolivia

The archaeological investigations of the San Andres University of La Paz, Bolivia, in the southern Poopo Lake basin were initiated in 2001 within the ASI/SAREC cooperation program. The Anthropological- Archaeological Institute of San Andres University is developed a program aiming to cover the local necessities of the people and the professional formation process of students and teachers in the so-called project “Cultural Autodefinition”.
The Lake Poopo basin covers an area of 24892 km 2, and is located on the east side of the central Bolivia plateau. The medium lake level is 3686 m.a.s.l., with an annual rainfall average less than 300 mm year (Quintanilla and Martinez 2002). The principal water flow comes from the Desaguadero River, as well as some salty inflow from the Marquez, Sevaruyo and other rivers originating in the east Cordillera. The largest chain mountain is the Azanaques Cordillera with picks of over 5000 m.a.s.l., including the Azanaques Mountain (5102 m.a.s.l). Volcanic elevations form smaller chains at the west side of the lake.

The great extension of the lake Poopo basin made necessary the definition of an archaeological study region. Considering methodological and logistic criteria, the southern lake Poopo basin has been chosen in a region 250.000 Km 2. Five sub- areas were defined inside the region in relation to the most important towns and localities: Pampa Aullagas, Quillacas, Sevaruyo, Huari and San Miguel de Uruquilla in the Oruro Department.
The project signed an agreement with the local authorities containing the objectives of the research. The archaeology research team in the project is composed of three archaeologists lecturers (one Ph. D candidate), an assistant researcher, several students on different levels and the local people.
According to the Bolivian archaeological history, strong nationalistic ideas of the past did not permit the development of the potential archaeological regional possibilities in a large country such as Bolivia, which was particularly clear in the Poopo basin region. The most intensive research near Oruro was conducted in the monumental mounds called Wankarani Formative culture, arriving to the conclusion that this culture never passed the self-sufficient stage. The National Institute of Archaeology delimited the cultural influence of the Wankarani culture within a small circle around the northern Lake Poopo area and the Desaguadero River (Ponce 1970). Later works developed in the processual tradition during the 90’ s confirm this hypothesis (Berman y Estevez 1993, Mc Andrews 1998, Rouse 2001).
The archaeological reviews of the Poopo lake region considered it a deserted and a low populated area with fewer centralised social and economic relationships than the Titicaca lake basin with better humid conditions and the development of the so called Tiwanaku state.
New evidences shows that the Poopo area developed complex central places since the Late Formative period, (200 a.C – 200 d.C) a long and poor known archaeological time that finished in the constitution of villages and big towns (6 ha.) expanded in the Poopo basin area, oriental valleys and coast. The development and expansion of the sites was accompanied with a change in the settlement pattern, in which small villages close to the rivers change their position to the mountains slopes, probably in relation to the terraces agriculture exploitation.
Herders Llamas caravan life way reinforce the central places formation and the production specialisation, with different identities constituted. According to Nuñez and Dillehay (1988) the participation in an harmonious and cohesive exchange system permit the distribution of diverse goods and services from different ecological zones, connected in multiple axis settlements which comprise parts of a mobile subsistence settlement pattern. Nuñez and Dillehay historical and hypothetical model neglected the appearance of “urban” places in the area, they proposed a long-term stability of a commensurate relationship with the camelids and a combined mobile sedentary life. In contrast with the mentioned authors we found that the next period called Early Regional Developments (aprox. 300- 900 d.C) shows an important increment in archaeological sites sizes, (more than 20 Has) and different centralised cultural identities constitution process. The Quillacas area (South Poopo) develop a particular ceramic style called Puqui with triangular spirals, the extreme south area presents the San Miguel the Uruquilla site with more than 20 Ha size, and profusion of Puqui, Yura- Uruquilla and Taltape ceramic styles between others.
Huari at the east portion of the lake Poopo shows an important Tiwanaku “enclave”, with ceramics from the core Titicaca area and surrounding styles, showing the importance of the area in relation to the northern state and valleys. Intra site ceramics differences permit us identify:
1. Tiwanaku ceramic styles from the core area of the Titicaca lake
2. Tiwanaku ceramics from the valleys (Cochabamba)
3. Uruquilla - Yura ceramic styles from the salts region
4. Puqui style represented in ritual glasses
Similarities in the settlement pattern: sites located in coluvial zones in the top or mountain slopes, use of agricultural platforms and terraces in big scale, use of drained fields, and principally the common use of the ritual glasses called “Keru” and “tazon”, let us understand that Tiwanaku influenced the development and grow of the central places in the Poopo lake basin in a religious and trade way adopted according to every local regional development.
Apparently the styles are showing the establishment of social and economic alliances between groups. As David Browman (1978) has noted, the presence of ritual Tiwanaku goods it’s a mark of the presence of Tiwanaku in the area, with a unique assemblage appropriate to local religious practices by selecting components from itinerant caravan traders.
The new discoveries in the Poopo lake question us about how was possible the development of central places and the constitution of regional stable towns in an arid and semi deserted area like the Poopo lake basin. The existence of big agricultural terraces, platforms and drained fields, abandoned today, gave us the possibility of thinking in a climatic rainy episode that influenced the formation and growing of central places at the moment of the late Formative and the beginning of the Early Regional Developments periods in the area.
These changes appear to be contemporaneous with that in the southern Titicaca basin, where regional Formative villages changed to nucleate populations in the Tiwanaku III period (200 A.D), and also indicated as the fact that some Uruquilla, Yura, Puqui, and unidentified ceramics were found in excavations at the shore Titicaca Lake (Bermann 1996).
Apparently, the social dynamics and technological developments that changed the villages to the first urban centres were developed in a more extensive area than the Tiwanaku valley. Based on paleoecological studies some archaeologists of the Titicaca basin related the Tiwanaku growth and hegemony with a rainy ENSO period of abrupt lake level rise to 7 m below the modern level that remained for 350 years, that means the lake level was lower during the Formative period (Bandy 2002, Abbot et al. 1997a).

The expansive landscape transformations in form of terraces and drained fields for the agriculture, the presence of a Tiwanaku enclave, the formation of local cultures and the development of a complex trade caravans system in the Poopo lake basin are important evidences for the future comprehension of the central place formations and the socio-environmental interactions in the early cultural periods of the Poopo lake basin.


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