Pre-ceramic Origins of Andean Civilization

 

Earliest Settlement in the Cordillera

 

1. From 11,000 BC when we have the earliest South American dates there is evidence of human occupation in the Andes and gradual movement from undifferentiated big-game hunting to a variety of distinct regional traditions that evolved their own particular cultural inventories to adapt to their specific settings (although Monte Verde shows this trend of adaptation to specific environmental circumstances from the earliest settlement period).

 

2. Thus we have a tropical forest tradition near the Equator in the north, seasonal hunting and foraging traditions in the Andean highlands, and marine adaptation along the desert coast. This latter tradition laid the later maritime foundations of Andean Civilization between 5000 and 3000 BC. In addition, during the period ca. 8000-2500 BC a variety of plants and animals were gradually and opportunistically domesticated in the various environmental zones of the Andes, producing the inventory that became by 2000 BC the basis for agricultural society. The most important of these domesticates were potatoes, maize, and beans, llamas and alpacas, which, with many subsidiary counterparts, became the subsistence staples for pre-European society.

 

 

Coastal -Preceramic Foundations of Andean Civilization.

 

1. In the period 5000-4500 BC coastal groups of hunter-foragers who had until this time lived seasonally migratory lives moving between the Andean slopes (deer, camelid) and the coast (fox, rodents, sea mammals, fish, lagoon plants and shellfish), settled down in permanent coastal villages with a commensurate increase in specialization on marine and coastal subsistence resources.

 

2. Villagers at sites like Paloma and Chilca on the central Peruvian coast built small clusters of dome-shaped, semi-subterranean houses with reed superstructure. In-house burial is common. In the Chinchorro Culture of the far southern Peruvian and northern Chilean Coast, the treatment of the dead was even more elaborate with mummification and complicated modification of body organs and head. This careful treatment of the body hints at an early beginning of the ancestral reverence that we see in later times as an integral part of Andean cultural conception.

 

3. While much of the subsistence analysis shows emphasis on fish, sea mammals and shellfish, there is good evidence that these coastal dwellers foraged for wild plants in the coastal river valleys and by the later period may have cultivated squash and beans as subsidiary food sources.

 

4. As coastal adaptation became even more successful in the 4th millennium BC villages became larger with greater intensity of population. Population size, together with differential grave goods, and the introduction of small platforms (corporate architecture), indicate the increase of social complexity.

 

5. Technology included small mesh net fishing for anchovies and other small fish using small boats, line fishing from rocky headlands, and harpooning for sea mammals. Cotton cultivation was introduced in the later 4th millennium and highland cultigens were increasingly imported (maize, sweet potato).

 

Coastal Maritime Civilization

 

1. By the early 3rd millennium BC this evolving coastal pattern produced large settlements of residential architecture clustered around large stone-cored platform mounds (later mud-brick was used) on whose summits stood the architecture of religious and administrative control. These structures with their vertical emphasis and social prominence were the emerging centers of social integration. They remained as such throughout the entire history of Andean pre-European society.

 

2. Platforms were also the stages on which the rulers of coastal communities officiated at the rituals of ideological power and traditional myth. These great structures were mounted by central ramps. Especially by the 2nd millennium their approaches were elaborated to include circular or rectangular sunken courts as part of a processional and ceremonial way that may have symbolized the cosmological (solar) pathway from earth to heaven or the life cycle with its attendant ritual cycle.

 

3. The economy of these early centers of civilization remained focused on maritime exploitation until ca. 1600 BC. Coastal Andean Civilization diverges from the general rule that social complexity only occurs within the context of agriculture and attendant ceramic production. Neither occurred until the early-middle 2nd millennium BC on the coast even though by that time settlements were very large and the architecture and art of power extremely elaborate with concomitant social complexity and hierarchy.

 

4. The coastal maritime sequence is represented by:

- The Aspero Coastal Tradition

- Influence from the Highland Kotosh Tradition

- The Paraiso Tradition.

 

Aspero Tradition (from early 3rd millennium BC)

1. Aspero is a large Central Coast Site, which contains evidence of a large residential population that depended overwhelmingly on marine subsistence (fish, shellfish, nets, lines).

 

2. The site possesses numerous platforms whose interiors are constructed with rubble fill held in cotton mesh bags of uniform size showing regularization of labor units and accounting.

 

3. Two platforms, the Huaca de los Idolos and the Huaca de los Sacrificios both support summit courtyards and exclusive rooms with limited access and ritual contents. Status burials in Sacrificios indicate emergence of rank and social hierarchy, while a cache of clay figurines may reflect ritual activity.

 

4. The presence of spondylus shell shows contact with Ecuador while coastal maize and camelid bones show contact with highlands.

 

Kotosh Tradition (later 3rd millennium BC)

1. This tradition was named after a site in the central highlands whose platforms were surmounted by rectangular rooms in which low benches surround sunken courts (i.e. the Templo de los Manos Cruzados). The walls of the courts have ventilation shafts suggesting that fire played a part in the attendant ritual.

 

2. The Kotosh Tradition site of Las Galgada in the upper Santa drainage shows the same features in two large platforms fronted by sunken courtyards. Numerous burials occur in filled chambers on the platforms.

 

3. A large accompanying residential occupation based on agriculture (squash, fruits, beans, cotton, chili peppers) spread along the river terrace. The appearance of seashell, camelid bone, and tropical bird feathers show that La Galgada was in touch with coast highland and forest zones.

 

Paraiso (end of 3rd millennium BC)

1. The great site of El Paraiso on the central Peruvian coast displays influence from both earlier traditions with an L-shaped series of great platforms with elaborate summit architectures surrounding a great plaza whose open end faced the mountains. A rectangular benched room with sunken court stands in one of the platforms, showing the presence of elements of the highland Kotosh tradition.

 

2. The site is located further inland than the earlier maritime sites and contains not only considerable marine resources but a much greater presence of domesticated products. El Paraiso heralds agriculture on the coast and a major change in settlement pattern and way of life.

 

3. Thus, by the early 3rd millennium BC there was a transition to intensive agriculture in the coastal valleys and a move of the largest settlements away from the coast to inland coastal valley sites more conducive to irrigation agriculture. This also allowed large political formations. In fact El Paraiso itself may well have been the center of a multi-valley political formation it dwarfs other nearby sites.