Traces of the pre-hispanic past in Cabanaconde, Peru

Cabanaconde is a small town on the edge of the Colca Canyon in the Peruvian Andes. At approximately 3300 m elevation, the town lies more than two kilometres above the valley floor (2200 m) – the Colca Canyon is one of the deepest canyons of the world. Cabanaconde is surrounded by extensive terraces and irrigated fields, many of which may date to pre-hispanic times.

 Agricultural terraces at the edge of the Colca Canyon. Now as in pre-hispanic times, maize is one of the main crops. The tall trees are eucalyptus, a non-native species. Traces of a Late Intermediate Period archaeological site can be found on the hill behind the town of Cabanaconde.

Agricultural terraces at the edge of the Colca Canyon. Now as in pre-hispanic times, maize is one of the main crops. The tall trees are eucalyptus, an introduced species. Traces of a Late Intermediate Period archaeological site can be found on the hill behind the town of Cabanaconde.

A few years ago we went for a late afternoon walk uphill from the centre of Cabanconde. At the edge of town, flowers had been placed on a large stone in the centre of a small open space surrounded by a waist-high wall. Further uphill, there were scatters of pre-hispanic ceramic sherds dating to the Late Intermediate Period along the path.

Late Intermediate Period ceramic sherds found near Cabanaconde.

Late Intermediate Period ceramic sherds found near Cabanaconde (period assignment by J. Isla Cuadrado).

To both sides of the path, low walls enclosed spaces that were used as gardens or to keep animals such as pigs. In one such enclosure, a large mortar (approximately 50 cm diameter) was used as a drinking trough for pigs – putting archaeological surface finds to a new use. Mortars are relatively common finds in Late Intermediate Period settlements in the Andes (see this example from northernmost Chile)

An archaeological mortar re-used as a drinking trough for pigs.

An archaeological mortar re-used as a drinking trough for pigs.

Much of the settlement itself appeared to have been erased, the stones perhaps being re-used to build enclosures for domestic animals. Yet further uphill, a double-faced wall was crossed by the path. The wall itself had been removed down to the present soil surface, yet its lower portion remained visible. The remnants of the visible straight wall segment showed that this wall had been built much more carefully than many of the younger enclosure walls (for example those used for keeping the pigs).

Remnants of a double-faced wall crossed by a present-day path.

Remnants of a double-faced wall crossed by a present-day path.

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