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Cultural Responses to Environmental Catastrophes: Post-El Niño Subsistence on the Prehistoric North Coast of Peru

  • Jerry D. Moore (a1)
Abstract

Recent debate about the development of complex societies on the north coast of Peru has turned on the relative importance of marine vs. terrestrial resources and the extent to which different resource zones are upset by El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) events. While ENSO events are cited frequently as having important consequences for Prehispanic Andean societies, in fact there are few archaeological data about the nature of cultural responses to a specific ENSO event. Archaeological data from two Chimu settlements in the Casma Valley, Peru—Quebrada Sta. Cristina and Manchan—document the occurrence of a fourteenth-century A.D. ENSO event and some of the cultural responses to that prehistoric El Niño.

Un aspecto del debate sobre el desarollo de sociedades costeñas en el Perú prehispánico ha llamado atención al papel relativo de los recursos marinos vs. los recursos terestres y los efectos episódicos de los cambios ambientales de “El Niño.” Mientras que varios arqueólogos han planteado hipótesis sobre los “Niños” prehispánicos y las sociedades andinas, escasos son los datos arqueológicos sobre las reacciones culturales al fenómeno “El Niño.” Datos de dos sitios chimu del valle de Casma, Quebrada Sta. Cristina y Manchan, indican el caso de un “El Niño” que occurió durante el siglo XIV (D.C.) y las respuestas sociales a este fenómeno prehispánico.

Parece que los restos moluscos de los dos sitios representan los efectos de un “El Niño” en el siglo XIV. En el sitio de Quebrada Sta. Cristina hay una ausencia de choros—como Aulacomya ater, Semimytilius alzozus y Brachidontes purpuratus—clases de mariscos bien representados en el sitio de Manchan. La ausencia de choros en Quebrada Sta. Cristina no fue el resultado de una falta de acceso a recursos marinos porque la Quebrada Sta. Cristina está más cerca al mar que Manchan y, además, hay restos de otros moluscos como chiton (Chiton spp.) que viven, usualmente, con los choros en las piedras y las olas de la costa peruana. La ausencia de los choros en el sitio de Quebrada Sta. Cristina nos sugiere un cambio ambiental de un “El Niño.”

Además, el sitio de Quebrada Sta. Cristina está asociado a un conjunto de campos elevados en el valle de Casma, los únicos campos elevados conocidos de la costa peruana. Plantea la hipótesis que los campos elevados fueron construidos por los habitantes del sitio de Quebrada Sta. Cristina y que la comunidad prehispánica y los campos elevados fueron organizados por el estado chimu. El sitio fue un campamento de trabajadores estatales quienes construyeron los campos elevados, y éstos fueron un proyecto para reestablecer la producción agrícola del valle de Casma destruida por los efectos de un “El Niño” del siglo XIV.

Finalmente, los datos del valle de Casma nos sugieren la necesidad de obtener datos más precisos sobre las fechas, la intensidad y la duración de los cambios ambientales asociados con “El Niño.” Sólo con esos datos será posible delinear las relaciones entre el medio ambiente andino y el desarrollo prehispánico de las sociedades peruanas.

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Latin American Antiquity
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