Pre-Hispanic terrace agricultural practices and long-distance transfer of plant taxa in the southern-central Peruvian Andes revealed by phytolith and pollen analysis

Abstract

The archaeological excavation of two abandoned prehispanic agricultural terraces (Infiernillo and Tocotoccasa) in the Chicha-Soras Valley (Apurimac) in southern-central Peru revealed the presence of palaeosols. The palaeosols represent soil that developed following construction of agricultural terraces during the Middle Horizon. The soil profiles at the current surface developed following reconstruction of the terraces during the Late Intermediate Period. Phytolith analysis revealed an unexpected presence of Arecaceae (palm family) and Marantaceae (arrowroot family) in both terraces, which has been attributed to local cultivation and/or transportation and use of soil, dung, plant material or implements (made of Arecaceae) on the terrace surfaces. Pollen analysis of a nearby wetland (Ayapampa) did not provide evidence for Arecaceae or Marantaceae. Both phytolith and pollen analysis of the terraces and wetland (respectively) indicated that Zea mays was cultivated locally during the Middle Horizon and Late Intermediate Period, although phytoliths of maize are absent from the wetland record during the Middle Horizon. The presence of Solanaceae and Chenopodiaceae/Amaranthaceae pollen in the wetland may be indicative of cultivation of further important taxa during the Middle Horizon and Late Intermediate Period, which continued into the Late Horizon together with Zea mays

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