April 9, 2020
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  • 10:58 pm Santa Cruz Shelter in Place 2020: Day 17
UNM professor explores ancient agriculture and ritual practices in Chile’s Atacama Desert


We’re interested in what happens to
people, and their water, and their land when they’re pulled into the Inca economy. so
I’m currently working on international collaboration with two archaeologists
from the University of Chile, Diego Salazar and Andrés Troncoso and an
archaeologist from the Spanish National Research Council, César Parcero, and the four of us are co-directing a project on ancient land use
and water management in the high Atacama Desert in northern Chile and we’re
looking at what happens to people and landscapes when they’re conquered by the Inca Empire. So the emphasis this past semester was
to look at these ritual practices involving the offerings of copper to the
sacred landscape beings and so mostly what we were doing was mapping these
copper, their ground copper mineral offerings, we’re mapping their locations
that were around this one big archaeological site called Turi and
we’re interested in knowing when this area was taken over by the Inca how
those ritual practices may have changed as well and we’ve been looking at how
they’re using the minerals as offerings to sacred mountain peaks so that
they’re you know providing this the minerals to the peaks in order then to
receive water from the peaks for their fields. So we’re combining both this more
economic perspective on land management with a ritual practices related to land
management. It’s interesting to know what happens to local people and landscapes
when they’re pulled into bigger political economies. So just like people
today look at globalization and what happens to people in other countries
when they’re tied into the global economy, we’re interested in what
happens to people and their water and their land when they’re pulled into the
Inca economy. The Fulbright was for research and for teaching, and so one of
my goals was to teach a graduate course on ancient technology at the University
of Chile. So I work on agriculture but I also work on other kinds
of technology, so craft production, I’ve done a lot of work, well not a lot,
I’ve done some work on beer brewing as well ancient beer brewing because beer
is really important in the Andes for all kinds of different social and ritual
exchanges so given this expertise that I have on
production in the past and technology I was invited to teach a graduate course.
So that was one of the things, one of my goals, that I was able to do and taught
the graduate course and then the other goal was to do more of the field work on
the ritual aspects of agriculture and water management and it’s allowed us to
to get an idea of what the shift was in life and in the landscape when
the Inca came in and allowed us to also understand that they, the Inca, we think
took over the mines in part because instead of the local people being able
to have a direct communication with their sacred mountain beings the state came in and said okay, we’re the ones
now who are going to be communicating with these powerful mountain beings and
took over the mines in order to do that. So I need to go back and do
some analysis, but we were able to do the finish the fieldwork that we hoped to
accomplish this past fall. It’s you know one of the driest deserts in the world and
where we work we are surrounded on three sides by mountains and have these snowcapped volcanoes and some of these volcanoes are these sacred
peaks and those are to the east, and to the west is a what essentially used
to be a wetland, but the the water has has receded a lot because there’s a lot
of mining today in that area and the mines are taking up all the water so
it’s not as green as it used to be in prehistoric times, but where there’s
still water you know there’s life right so there are still people who are farming and herding that are living on that
landscape so these are the communities of Ayquina and Turi and in terms of
wildlife there are guanacos, which are the wild relatives of
llamas and alpacas there are rheas which they look like
ostriches. Occasionally we see flamingo and geese and and other birds
because there’s still a little bit of water left. Again, and I don’t
think I can state this enough, I really think it’s a privilege for US
scholars to be able to work in other countries, and I feel really
fortunate that I’ve had this opportunity to collaborate with my Chilean and
Spanish colleagues and do this work and it’s been great for me and it’s been
great for my students.

Jean Kelley

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