Archaeological research at a principal source of obsidian in ancient Peru.
Daniel A. Contreras
Yuri Cavero Palomino
The regional significance of Quispisisa obsidian is evident from consumption patterns; it was transported to sites over 100 km from the source in the Early Holocene and by 500 BCE it was reaching sites nearly 1000 km distant from the source. Research into the procurement of Quispisisa obsidian at its source promises to shed light on the timing, scale, and organization of the mining of this important material, while the settlement system and anthropogenic landscape of the surrounding area provides an optimal case study in the long-term occupation of a regionally important highland valley.
For more detail on our preliminary work, see our recent article in Latin American Antiquity.
Fieldwork in 2012 is possible thanks to grants from the National Geographic Committee on Research and Exploration and the Brennan Foundation. Preliminary fieldwork, beginning in 2007, was possible thanks to support from the Council of American Overseas Research Centers, the Archaeological Research Facility at U.C. Berkeley, and the Stanford University Branner Earth Sciences Library.
The Quispisisa source lies in the valley of the Urabamba River at 4,000 meters above sea level in puna (high grassland) ecological zone. Following published descriptions of the first geo-archaeological prospection of the source area (Burger and Glascock 2000, 2002), we conducted multiple brief visits to the Quispisisa source area in order to collect geological samples of obsidian, explore any associated archaeological features, and conduct archaeological prospection in the surrounding area. We further explored the area of the deposit encountered by Burger’s team, as well as investigating other outcrops in the region, in order to better document the extent and variability of Quispisisa type obsidian.
We have documented a much more extensive area of obsidian quarries, and identified >30 quarry pits (Tripcevich and Contreras 2011). In general, the obsidian quarry pits are ellipsoidal features, carpeted with small discarded obsidian nodules and some flake debris; the pits range from 15 m to 45 m across, and often have substantial berms of excavated material downslope. Those documented thus far are spread over an area of 90 hectares, and comprise in total a mined surface of at least 13,000 m2 and an estimated excavated volume of at least 32,000 m3. We identified few traces of occupation nearby, but located an extensive area of relict terracing, road networks, and archaeological sites containing dense obsidian deposits beginning 10 km downstream to the north at Colcabamba, in an area that has only been minimally surveyed and falls largely outside of the area covered by previous research in the region (Earls 1981; Valdez and Vivanco 1994).
Regional archaeological evidence demonstrates that Quispisisa-type was exploited as early as the Archaic Period. By the first millennium BCE, Quispisisa obsidian was widely distributed in the interaction network associated with the Chavín phenomenon, reaching sites as distant as Pacopampa, nearly 1000 linear km from the source (see, for some examples, Burger and Asaro 1977). During the Middle Horizon the Wari Empire made extensive use of obsidian from this source.
The Quispisisa obsidian source provided one of the most widely distributed obsidians in South America, but remains minimally explored. Our reconnaissance work since 2009 has documented an extensive area of quarry pits, as well as the wide extent of settlement and terracing in the region. In 2012 we will develop a program of excavation and limited survey in order to
Our field season is July and August 2012 with lab work to follow in Peru. For further information please contact our project email: quispi@MapAspects.org
Yuri Cavero Palomino (Facultad de Ciencias Sociales, Universidad Nacional San Cristobal de Huamanga)
Yuri is a Peruvian archaeologist with more than twenty years of survey and excavation experience in Ayacucho. He is licensiado in archaeology and a fluent Quechua speaker, and currently teaches archaeology in Ayacucho at the Universidad de Huamanga.
Daniel Alexander Contreras (Institute for Ecosystem Research, Kiel University)
Dan is a landscape geoarchaeologist with a Ph.D in Anthropological Sciences from Stanford University and more than ten years of archaeological experience in Peru. He is currently a Humboldt Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Kiel University, Germany.
Nicholas Tripcevich (Archaeological Research Facility, U.C. Berkeley)
Nico's research focuses on Andean regional interaction and ancient quarrying with a Ph.D in Anthropology from U.C. Santa Barbara and more than ten years of archaeological experience in Peru. He is currently the Laboratory Manager at the U.C. Berkeley Archaeological Research Facility.
Please contact us if you are interested in participating in the project
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