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Antiquity Vol 79 No 306 December 2005

The first Hispano-Indigenous archaeological project in the Humahuaca Rift Valley, Argentina

Mariel Alejandra López

Objects of Hispanic origin dating to the sixteenth-seventeenth centuries AD have been found in funereal contexts in several indigenous sites within the Humahuaca Rift Valley (figure 1). Until now, these scarce objects, which have still not been thoroughly analysed, have been the only indicators of early contact between Hispanic and Indigenous peoples.

Due to the importance of this archaeological problem, a new research project has been established in order to analyse whether or not these objects formed correlated evidence of direct contact or were introduced through exchange of goods networks already in existence in the Andean world and within the region.

So far, the degree of contact between these two worlds has not been specifically examined from an archaeological perspective, and there has been no in-depth interdisciplinary study of archaeological and ethnohistorical sources dedicated to the theme. Some archaeological studies have investigated sites from this period, but only as part of projects with different research questions.

There have also been ethnohistorical studies of documents from this period, but they are almost entirely limited to rare political and administrative documentation. As a result, very little is known of the archaeology of indigenous sites of this period, of the possible sites and locations of Spanish settlements in the Rift Valley, or of the diversity of the material culture generated.The only structures previously known are at the colonial towns (Figures 2 and 3).

Hernández Llosas & Sora (1990) initially proposed a study to integrate information from various sources a decade ago which has not been possible to carry out until now. The study has recently begun as postdoctoral work linked to an Research Program directed by Dr. M.I. Hernández Llosa.

Figure 1

Figure 1. Plan of Humahuaca Rift Valley, Argentina.
Figure 2 (Click to view)

Figure 2. Colonial church dating to c. 1655 from Huacalera, Humahuaca Rift Valley. Photography by López, 1999.

The first objective of this new project is to investigate the phenomenon of contact between the indigenous population and the Spanish invaders. The 'contact' took place at least within three different consecutive episodes that can be analysed as follows: beginning, rebellions wars and ending

The project is centred on the study of material culture of the different groups and takes an interdisciplinary approach, using information and methodology not only from archaeology but also from other disciplines including anthropology, ethnohistory, history, history of art and linguistics.

Of the objectives initially outlined, the following are already partially completed:

  • The definition based on documents of both 'worlds' for each of the relevant episodes, analysing the possible social changes that could have been occurring at the time of contact.
  • The definition based on documents of probable confrontation sites within indigenous and Spanish settlements and their varieties.
  • The definition based on documents of various sites (indigenous and Spanish) taken from the possible layouts, structures and materials used during this time, particularly in relation to the construction of the first military and administrative settlements.
  • The definition based on documents of communication routes and the possible changes in mobility within that area and in trade routes after contact.
  • The definition based on documents of the objects circulating within the 'domestic' and 'extra-domestic' circuits in both social groups and their possible exchange values.

This has led to the following results:

  1. The generation of a database containing diverse types of documental information (archaeological sites, collections, historical documents etc.) relating to the study area.
  2. A link to an GIS (Geographical Information System) featuring the distribution of historical and archaeological sites which correspond to this period.
  3. A diagram of a model of the indigenous Spanish relationship with the Humahuaca Rift Valley dwellers' space, which can then be used as a guide for further survey and excavations in the field.

Figure 3 (Click to view)

Figure 3. Watermill at Huacalera, Humahuaca Rift Valley attributed to the Jesuits. Photography by Estruch, 2005
Figure 4 (Click to view)

Figure 4. First case of representation of a topo (topu) or inca pin in a ceramic vessel uncovered from a domestic context of La Huerta (R. 293). This 'Inca provincial' sherd was dated to the seventeenth century from its context and represents a change in the local representation patterns (López 2004 a, b; 2005).

The project uses different areas of archaeological theory to tackle different problems. Rural and processual archaeology outlines rough problems and overviews while historical processualism is used to sketch out more delicate work.

Theories and methodology from other disciplines have also been adopted. Those theoretical perspectives employed by history, ethnohistory or anthropological history which coincide with the importance given to the focus on the methods or experiences of the social actors furthest from the dichotomy between occurrences and structures can be explained by the following; 'acculturation', 'tradition', or 'syncretically ordered solutions', where the shock of contact between cultures has been specifically taken into account.

Other investigators in the region have bemoaned the lack of quality documentation in the colonial area of Tucumán. However, we have looked at religious documents which have not previously been explored in a systematic manner, particularly for the Humahuaca Rift Valley, as well as the link of this region with the Charcas colonial area and the consideration of pre-eighteenth century documentation.

Our current hypothesis which most evidence supports suggests that the ingress of the Spanish into the territory of Humahuaca destabilised the characteristic social organisation of the group so deeply that they settled in known settlement sites, imposing 'a new way of life and existence' on the Andean space. This crisis would leave a trail of material culture, especially in the representation of typically Inca elites and/or Spanish symbols on different objects which began to be manipulated by both worlds (Figure 4).

  • HERNÁNDEZ LLOSAS, M.I. & G. SORA. 1990. Información etnohistórica y modelo arqueológico: un enfoque sistémico procesual. Ponencia presentada en el 2° Congreso Mundial de Arqueología. Barquisimento, Venezuela. M. S.
  • LÓPEZ, M.A. 2004a. Tecnología cerámica en La Huerta, Quebrada de Humahuaca, Provincia de Jujuy, República Argentina. Tesis para optar al título de Doctor de la Facultad de Filosofía y Letras, Universidad de Buenos Aires. M.S. Tomos I y II.
  • -2004b. Complejidad social, especialización artesanal e innovaciones técnicas en Quebrada de Humahuaca: Un caso de cerámica Inka provincial arqueométricamente analizada. Paper presented at the XV Congreso Nacional de Arqueología Argentina. Summary published in Libro de resúmenes del XV C.N.A.A.: 143. Córdoba: Río Cuarto.
  • - 2005. ¿Iconografía inka o colonial? De las representaciones simbólicas de lo incaico a las imágenes postconquista en la Quebrada de Humahuaca, Jujuy, Argentina. Una hipótesis de trabajo sobre representaciones figurativas en la cerámica 'Inka provincial' de los momentos de contacto hispano-indígena. Paper presented at the V Congreso Internacional de Etnohistoria, Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Dr. Mariel Alejandra López: Postdoctoral CONICET fellow, Archaeology Department of the Faculty of Humanities, University of Buenos Aires, Republic of Argentina.
Translated by G. Marcellus-Temple.

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