Seeking Understanding of Archaeological Contexts in Tucuman

A team of CONICET researchers speaks about pre-Hispanic agricultural practices, the history and how the Calchaqui Valley was inhabited a long time ago.

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Seeking Understanding of Archaeological Contexts in Tucuman

CONICET researcher Maria Marta Sampietro Vattuone at field work [Picture: CONICET].

As immovable testimonies of pre-Columbian cultures, emblematic fragments of South American history still remain at archaeological sites in Tucuman. Incan settlements and vestiges of prior aborigine cultures can be found, showing practices in place prior to the conquest by Spaniards.

María Marta Sampietro Vattuone, an independent researcher from the CONICET for the National University of Tucuman Geo-archaeology Lab, is conducting research work to understand agricultural practices at the pre-Hispanic conquest period and how the land was used.

The work published by this research team in the specialised magazine Quaternary Research shows that phosphorus concentrations found in the pre-Hispanic agricultural soil in the Tafi Valley reflect the use of fertilisers. In addition, the remains of eroded pottery found reveal the process of formation of sites and the soil features let reconstruct the climate at those times, which was more favourable for the agriculture than the current climate. All this information shows the behaviours of the population of such Valley and provides some hints about their socio-economic development.

During the last decade of geo-archaeological research in Tucuman, much research work has been performed on the paleoenvironmental conditions that prevailed during the last 3 thousand years. They focused mainly on the Tafi Valley, where the first socio-economic agricultural developments could be found in the Argentine Northwest Area (NOA).

“We work essentially with geo-archaeology, which deals with the use of methods and techniques applied by geo-sciences to solve archaeological issues.Our research is based on the discovery and analysis of new sites at different areas of the Calchaqui Valley”, explained Sampietro.

This team used a number of physical-chemical indicators for the soils—both current and old ones— in an attempt to unscramble the agricultural practices implemented since the inception of agriculture in the Calchaqui Valley until the first contact between Spaniards and Aborigines. Sampietro said that “this time span goes from year 1000 B.C. to year 1500 A.D., when the Spaniards are thought to have arrived in that area".

Besides their attempt to find what the soils were like, they attempted to figure out how the preferences were in connection with the appropriation of available land based on the resources existing then. As explained by this researcher, cultures changed at the same pace as the technological and climate changes.

At the time of the first sedentary settlements, the climate was wet, but towards 1000 A.D. the climate became drier and it remained like that for the following 500 years, trending to become arid", said Sampietro.

According to this research work, lack of water made populations get adapted and new ways of inhabiting this land were found: Some marginal areas and towns with a dispersed form of occupancy became more agglutinated and concentrated near watercourses.

When science allows envisaging part of our history

This geo-archaeological research work allowed the paleoenvironmental reconstruction of the last three thousand years, in connection with the cultural evolution of archaeological sites in the Calchaqui Valley.

The truth is that this land has a vast history that tells about the life of pre-Hispanic populations that knew how to work this land, to manage hydric resources and they bred livestock as forms of survival.

This reconstruction let us have an idea of the elements explaining what happened along the last 3000 years in connection with the occupancy of land and the organisation of populations”, asserted Sampietro.

This research starts with an analysis of the Formation period, which goes from the year 500 B.C. to year 1000 A.D., and is characterised for being the earliest sedentary period of the Argentine Northwest region. In this period, pottery was used as a regular material and agrarian and livestock practices improved.

“It does not mean that agriculture was created at that moment, as work on land started at earlier stages, but it achieved a more sophisticated dimension.In addition, breeding of camelids, such as llamas and alpacas was highly developed", she added.

According to this research, the next period is concerned with Regional Developments (from year 1000 B.C. to 1400 A.D.). At that moment, there were some agglutinated villages, chiefs of villages as forms of organisation and fights for the territory at villages. Also, the use of agro-pasture resources was highly increased.

Approximately in 1400 A.D. the Inca Empire arrived in this territory, exercising a strong domination over the cultures existing in this region. "There were even villages that were moved away to be able to have more control over them”, analysed this researcher.

The Incas changed the ways of ruling and managing spaces as compared those existing so far. This group of humans built the “Inca Road System”, a complex network of roads that included a number of administrative centres for cult and control of important spaces between the Inca Empire and the Argentine Northwest up to the province of Mendoza.

Our research work intends to go after the vestiges of the pre-Hispanic habitat to study them in an interdisciplinary fashion and to achieve better understanding of how such cultures lived and developed at that moment", Sampietro expressed.

The geo-archaeology as a path towards knowledge

Archaeology, says the researcher, is understood as the study of past societies and analyses evidences of different nature. Therefore, its study needs the application of methods and techniques deriving from different scientific disciplines. Geo-archaeology arises as a result of this need, as a tool to help respond issues raised by the archaeological analysis through the geo-sciences.

We recognise the areas of interest by means of prospection, then, we define places for excavation and finally we process all the data and material we recover, always based on deep knowledge of the place where we make findings at different scales", detailed Sampietro.

This research also uses geographical information systems involving the application of software developed for cartographies with aerial pictures and satellite images, geomorphology, pedology, sedimentology, paleoclimatology, palynology, among others, all of which are applied to the reconstruction of past societies.

National Council of Scientific and Technical Research (CONICET)
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Seeking Understanding of Archaeological Contexts in Tucuman

CONICET researcher Maria Marta Sampietro Vattuone at field work [Picture: CONICET].

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