The Agricultural Foundations of the Tiwanaku State: A View from the Heartland

  • Kolata A
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In this essay I explore the nature, role and significane of intensive agriculture in the ancient states of Tiwanaku which was centered in the high plateau of Southern Peru and northwestern Bolivia. Significant primary evidence that the State of Tiwanaku systematically reclaimed immense tracts of now abandoned agricultural land around the borders of Lake Titicaca is adduced and evaluated. I conclude that Tiwanaku was a dynamic, expansive states based squarely on an effective, surplus-prodcuing system of intensive agriculture, that the intesification agricultural production thoruhg large scale reclamation of flat, seasonally innundated land along the margins of Lake Titicaca was a prime economic strategy of the Tiwanaku state, and that this strategy was devied and managed by a hierarchically organized, central notes on the articleIn this article Kolata claims two things: 1) that Tiwanaku was a state, and 2) he has the fields which supported a population the size Browman and Smith claim lived there (40K). From the days of his dissertation fieldwork, Kolata has been inspecting photographs of the Lake Region and such. Here, on the other side of the hills from Tiwanaku, near Lukurmata, he claims are the fields of Pampa Koani. There are a number of features he attributes to this finding. First, the continuous tracts of raised fields which run from the shores of the lake nearly 15km inland; second, an intersecting set of linear features which cross-cut field segments; third, large L-shaped mounds set within the raised field network, and at presumed terminal points of the above causeways; fourth, a series of massive agricultural terraces cut into the slope bordering the edge of Pampa Koani; and fifth, an artificial canalization of the Rio Catari that bisects the PK. Basically, the fields are not of uniform size nor shape, although they all served the same primary function, to drain the planting surfaces to permit cultivation. Erickson suggests that they also serve to minimize frost damage (1984), and since the writing of the article this has been proved. The elevated planting surfaces range from 5-15 meters in width and are up to 200 meters in length. There are at least 70km2 of land reclaimed for construction of these planting surfaces. The shape of the mounds are mostly curvilinear; meaning that they wind around each other or are mostly lines jetting off of the river/stream. Work done by Deneven and Erickson for estimating the total amount of labor involved in building such structures is rather huge, and that a significant population should have been supported on a permanent basis by the agricultural products of these fields. Some of the products were tubers (papas and oca) and the unique chenopod grains such as quinoa and caniwa. The crosscutting set of lines were causeways along which llama trains carried the produce from the fields to Tiwanaku and to other locations such as Lukurmata or Pajchiri. Kolata claims that the possible crop yields could have supported anywhere from 25K to 56K people from the immediate hinterland. Significant evidence, both direct and inferential, that the construction, maintenance, and production of these fields were managed by a centralized political authority that systematically coopted land and labor for the benefit of non-local populations. The presence and apparent power of this centralized authority is reflected in the arch record by: 1) massive public reclamation and construction projects and the capture of the river, both of which required a significant labor force; 2) a consistent distinction btw. an elite, luxury-oriented material culture and a subsistence-oriented proletarian material culture implying some form of class stratification; and 3) a contemporaneous hierarchical settlement network marked by unambiguous distinctions in size, status, and function. This settlement hierarchy implies, minimally, a nested quadripartite division of administrative and primary production responsibilities. Such a hierarchical settlement system is a distinguishing characteristic of an integrated preindustrial state and implies that Tiwanaku state maintained a high degree of administrative efficiency and centralization of agricultural production. Kolata concludes that the fields of PK were the proprietary agricultural estate of Tiwanaku, that the intensification of agricultural production through large-scale reclamation of flat land along the margins of Lake T. was a prime economic strategy of the Tiwanaku state, and that this strategy was successfully devised and managed by a centralized arm of government.

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  • Alan L. Kolata

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