Long Term Change in the Prehispanic Agropastoral Societies of Bolivian Highlands

October 11, 2016

Last summer I had the opportunity to conduct a short-term archaeological field research mainly in the Siliza drainage region, located in the Department of Oruro on the southern highlands of Bolivia, and I also conducted research in the cities of La Paz and Oruro. During my field research I had the opportunity to adequately design my research strategy and efficiently accomplish the proposed goals. In this sense, my plan was to conduct a pilot dissertation project that allowed me to (a) document information about the material remains of the societies that inhabited this area in prehistoric times, as well as bibliographic information about the region, and (b) developed and begun to test the field methodology that I would need to use for my dissertation research. The three months of research were kindly founded by the Center for Latin American Studies of the University of Pittsburgh.   

My first trip to the Siliza drainage region consisted in doing an exploratory reconnaissance of the terrain, the roads, the towns, the possible places where to stay and the logistics. I spend 15 days visiting different communities, talking to the people and local authorities in order to explain to them what I was doing in the region and also to acquire verbal permit to walk on their land freely. I also visited the most important archaeological places of the region, Tambo Tambillo, Puqui, Alcaya, Tauca, Salinas, Tunupa, Pucara Loma, Ventilla.

After two more trips to the region, I was able to delimit the area, with in this extensive region 240 km2, where it would be most suitable to carry out my archaeological research, and I was able to test the methodology that I’m planning to use for my dissertation research, which consist in a full coverage pedestrian survey with in the delimited area. For this purpose, I also gather information about material density in an area of 120 km2, and I walked through the different geographic areas present in this region, mountains, plateaus, bofedales, sand dunes, and ravines, in order to estimate the amount of time that I would need to spend to cover this topographic regions in my dissertation fieldwork, and in this way have and accurate estimate of how long would this part of my research take. During this time, I was also able to come with a clearer idea of how I would design my methodological framework, in accordance to the terrain characteristics, logistics and equipment needed.

I was also able to stablish good relationships with local people from the communities of Puqui, Chalhua and Jayu Qot’a. I informally met with the local authorities, who were very collaborative and provided me with interesting and valuable oral historical recounts from the region.  I also had the opportunity to visit along with the authorities the local museum and revisit the known archaeological sites with in this area and visit other that were not registered yet. In the same way, I was able to explain to them my future plan of research for my dissertation and dialogue about the ways in which the information that I would obtain can also benefit the modern inhabitants of this region, generating knowledge about the lifeway’s of their ancestors.  

I’ve also had the opportunity to visit and document some archaeological materials from this region that were being held in the Anthropological Museum of the City of Oruro. In the city of La Paz, I was also able to visit the Department of Anthropology at the principal university in La Paz (Universidad Mayor de San Andres), where I met with some of the most important archaeologists in Bolivia, Ph.D. Claudia Rivera, Ph.Dc Jose Luis Paz, Lic. Velia Mendoza, who have worked in similar topics as the ones I am interested in develop for my dissertation project. At the university, I also had the opportunity to visit the four archaeological laboratories and talk with the archaeologists in charge, all of them were very interested in the generation of closer collaborative tights for the development of scientific projects in archaeology than could benefit the students and researches of different Universities outside from Bolivia. The generation of this tights would be of great importance and very beneficial for my dissertation project because I will be able to use the laboratories and run analysis with the participation of local students of archaeology so that they will also expand their knowledge in the use of innovative techniques to resolve archaeological problems.

In this way, this research supported by CLAS, helped me to determine the spatial extent of the area I can feasibly cover in survey, evaluate the limitations imposed by the terrain characteristics, modern cultivation and constructions. It also allowed me to establish important academic relationships with scholars that share the same research interests that I do for my dissertation research. I consider that my short-term field work experience was very enriching, and it has been extremely helpful for the development of a strong dissertation proposal to be carried out in Bolivia.

About Author(s)

Susan Wiedel
Susan Wiedel is a senior at the University of Pittsburgh studying English Nonfiction Writing and Latin American Studies. In the summer of 2014, Susan participated in the Center for Latin American Studies' Seminar/Field Trip to Cochabamba, Bolivia, where she conducted a research project on the quality and attendance rates of public secondary schools in the city. The unique experience led her to become more involved in the Center by becoming a certificate student and writer for Panoramas.