Issue - March 2007

March 2007

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This month, Bolivian archaeology and tales of our people invite us to explore our cultural diversity and heritage.

An interview with Ema Paz Noya, and more...

March 2007

Pre-Hispanic Agricultural Landscapes in Tablas Montes

by Walter Sanchez

In 1975, news coming from England moved Bolivian archaeologists. A journalist and adventurer, Ross Salmon, who had visited Tablas Monte (Cochabamba), along with archaeologist David Davies proclaimed to the London newspaper The Daily Mail to have discovered (May of 1975) the legendary lost city of ‘El Dorado’, the same that would be found “lifted up by the hills that dominated the Amazon”, with approximately “three kilometers of circumference, defended by eight concentric walls...(and) silos that were able to contain 47.000 tons of wheat”. Although Davies quickly denied such statements, due to imprecision and for having a sensationalist personality, Tablas Monte still appeared in archaeological literature as an important Inka site.

We do not know what Salmon and Davie saw. It is possible that they had observed the great amount of stone structures that are in the plains of Rasupampa, and that the same stone structures were interpreted as “concentric walls” and “silos.” We do know that during those years (1975-1976) the countrymen of Tablas Monte carried out “chaqueos” (burning and clearing of shrubs, mainly for agricultural purposes) in the plains of Rasupampa, what would have allowed them to observe the cultural landscape of pre-Hispanic agriculture from the hill of Huaycho Moqo.

In 2003, with the Tablas Monte Project (UMSS/ASDI/ SAREC), began an archaeological and ethno historical study that covered the areas of the Yungas of Tablas Monte and Inkachaca. The archaeological work (excavation and prospecting) showed that in this area there was an important human presence during at least 600 B.C. – 1450 B.C. The ceramic Tiwanaku findings, “local” “ciaco”, and Inka, as well as original from the Amazonian plains of the Chapare region showed that, in these lands that are situated in strategic areas between the Amazon tropics and valleys of Cochabamba, unfolded an important local culture – possibly related to the Yuracaré –, which at the same time emphasized a meeting point between people of the plains and the valleys with those of the Altiplano.

The amount of “ruins” – an inadequate word to give patrimonial archaeological meaning – as many in Tablas Monte as in Inkachaca, explain at least two processes: 1. a huge development of a distinct local culture to that to the valleys and plains of Cochabamba, and 2. a profound anthropogenic intervention over the environment that resulted in a complex pre-Hispanic agricultural landscape, as well as the confluence of Andean, Amazonian and local groups.

It is important to highlight the cultural role of stone, as used for the making of domestic artifacts (plates, grinding tables and stones called moroq’os), ritual artifacts (axes and statues), as well as construction for agricultural landscaping. In effect, it cannot be comprehended, for example, the anthropogenic modifications over the natural landscape in Tablas Monte – mainly in Rasupampa and Rasufalda – without the presence of stone. Rasupampa is an extensive horizontal plain of over 40 hectares filled with stone wall structures – made with Drawing of platforms with stone walls stones of various sizes –, square, rectangular and circular, that are small agricultural “gardens”.

These “gardens” are intersected by rows of stones that serve different functions: to solidify the furrows or water canals of the plantations, to make cleaning easier, to maintain the humidity beneath the soil during dry seasons and to provide a drainage system during rainy seasons. Rasufalda is located on a steeper area of about 100 meters, that falls almost vertically from Rasupampa to the Jatun Mayu River. In this area, the agricultural landscaping is dominated by platforms and terraces built also from stone. The platforms are built in a form of steep steps of 80 cm wide and 90 cm high, sustained by walls made of smaller stone. The terraces are sustained by enormous stones that serve as reinforcements, followed by walls made of stone taken from the river Jatun Mayu.

All of these cultural landscapes, unique in their own way and hidden amongst the tropical forest, create an important local and regional patrimony. Apart from the fact that it should be considered “capital technological agriculture”, it should deserve more specific studies as it could well serve to better the local agricultural production.

Urban agriculture
A simple definition of urban agriculture would be 'the production, for consumption, of crops or raising livestock in urban and peri-urban areas'. In this definition a single lemon tree in a city backyard is considered urban agriculture...
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