|Raised field construction (from Clark Erickson)|
Archaeological interest in ancient raised fields starts with the observation that they were a form of
"intensive agriculture." Urban populations need large amounts of food, and with primitive transportation methods food had to be grown locally (unless we are talking about imperial Rome, where food could be shipped across the Mediterranean from Egypt easily and inexpensively). Under preindustrial conditions, "intensive agriculture" refers to methods that require considerable investment of labor in order to increase the yield on the land. Consider the difference between rainfall agriculture and irrigation agriculture in a given environment. The construction of canals and dams, and their required maintenence, can increase yields tremendously, but at the cost of requiring much more labor than rainfall agriculture. Irrigation is an example of intensive agriculture, while rainfall farming is a kind of extensive agriculture.
|Figure 1 - Tiwanaku|
|Figure 2 - Relic fields on the shore of Lake Titicaca|
|Fig. 3 - Clark Erickson|
I talked about Aztec raised fields (called "chinampas") in a previous post. Here I want to focus on raised fields in the Andes. Tiwanaku was major urban center in Bolivia near Lake Titicaca, that flourished between AD 600 and 800 (fig 1). The plain around Lake Titicaca today is full of remnants of ancient raised fields (fig 2) that helped support the ancient city's population. A number of archaeologists have excavated and studied these ancient fields (see bibliography below). Here, I focus on the work of Clark Erickson (fig 3).
|Fig 5 - Rebuilding ancient fields|
|Fig 6 - Ancient and rebuilt raised fields|
|Fig 7 - Building new fields|
By the 1990s, however, the results were mixed. Most of the farms that had been built communally, by large groups, had been abandoned. But the household-level farms, where individual families had built and farmed the new fields, were still functioning.
|Fig 8 - Local publicity material|
Clark Erickson has since moved on to pursue similar research in the swampy plains of eastern Bolivia, the Llanos de Mojos. He is just one of the archaeologists who have tried to re-introduce ancient farming systems to modern farmers. Alan Kolata has also worked on the Lake Titicaca raised fields, and Christian Isendahl is now working on ancient/modern connections with other indigenous farming systems in Bolivia. I tried doing something similar once in Mexico. An agronomist and I wanted to excavate Aztec terraces, study how they worked, and then try to get modern campesinos to rebuild the ancient terraces and use them again. We could not get funding for our project, however, and then we both ended up working on different topics.
The work of Clark Erickson and the other archaeologists mentioned above are great examples of how archaeological research on ancient cities is relevant to the concerns of the modern world. As we search for solutions to problems of hunger and poverty in the developing world, it behooves us to pay attention to ancient cities and cultures. Many of them were highly successful, and they have clues that can help us today.
- Check out Clark's homepage at the University of Pennsylvania. He has copies of these and other papers available to download:
Erickson, Clark L.
1989 Raised Field Agriculture in the Lake Titicaca Basin: Putting Ancient Agriculture Back to Work. Expedition 30 (3): 8-16.
1992 Applied Archaeology and Rural Development: Archaeology's Potential Contribution to the Future. Journal of the Steward Anthropological Society 20 (1-2): 1-16.
1992 Prehistoric Landscape Management in the Andean Highlands: Ridged Field Agriculture and Its Environmental Impact. Population and Environment 13: 285-300.
2003 Agricultural Landscapes as World Heritage: Raised Field Agriculture in Bolivia and Peru. In Managing Change: Sustainable Approaches to the Conservation of the Built Environment, edited by Jeanne-Marie Teutonica and Frank Matero, pp. 181-204. Getty Consserfation Institute, Los Angeles.
2006 Intensification, Political Economy, and the Farming Community: In Defense of a Bottom-Up Perspective on the Past. In Agricultural Strategies, edited by Joyce Marcus and Charles Stanish, pp. 334-363. Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, UCLA, Los Angeles.
Erickson, Clark L. and Kay L. Candler
1989 Raised Fields and Sustainable Agriculture in the Lake Titicaca Basin of Peru. In Fragile Lands of Latin America: Strategies for Sustainable Development, edited by John O. Browder, pp. 230-248. Westview Press, Boulder.
- For other relevant research, see:
Janusek, John W. and Alan Kolata
2004 Top-Down or Bottom-Up: Rural Settlement and Raised Field Agriculture in the Lake Titicaca Basin, Bolivia. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 23: 404-430.
Kolata, Alan L.
1986 The Agricultural Foundations of the Tiwanaku State: A View from the Hhinterland. American Antiquity 51: 748-763.
Kolata, Alan L., O. Rivera, J. C. Ramírez, and E. Gemio
1996 Rehabilitating Raised-Field Agriculture in the Southern Lake Titicaca Basin of Bolivia. In Tiwanaku and its Hinterland: Archaeology and Paleoecology of an Andean Civilization. Volume 1, Agroecology, edited by Alan L. Kolata, pp. 203-230. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, DC.