SAA conference in San Juan, Puerto Rico
Trip Start Apr 26, 2006
1Trip End May 01, 2006
Show trip route
I'm still awaiting the results from carbon dating on some samples from my sector. They should be in any day now and will give me a date on a carbon deposit from one of my structures.
Investigations into the Early Occupation of La Tiza, Nasca, Peru
The seminal stage of permanent occupation in the Nasca Valley is not well understood. A florescence occurred during the Early Intermediate Period with the Nasca culture, but they were not the first substantial population to call the Nasca region their home. The early pioneers are thought to have been members of the Paracas culture, who migrated south, during the Late Formative Period, or Early Horizon according to the Peruvian chronology proposed by Rowe. In the South Coast, this is often referred to as the Paracas-Nasca interface.
The ceramics which constitute this transitional time period lack the elaborate post-fire, polychrome, resin-painted wares of the Paracas tradition and the Early Nasca artistic style and iconography. Proto-Nasca, Nasca 0, and Nasca 1 are all terms that have been given to the various vessel types that refuse to fit neatly into the previous or subsequent sequences.
My investigations at the site of La Tiza, located in the southern Nasca drainage, were aimed at expounding this elusive transition. La Tiza lies 6 km east of the modern town of Nasca, in a fertile area where the Aja and Tierras Blancas rivers converge into the Nasca River. The site is situated along a steep slope of the Andean foothills adjacent to the Aja River. The location allows for a stunning panorama of the river bottom and Cerro Blanco, a white sand mountain which has been considered sacred from the earliest settlement of the area throughout modern times. Local folklore telling of apus, or mountain deities associated with surrounding peaks, may be reminiscent of an ancient mountain and water cult. Ceramic sherds, likely remnants of dedicatory offerings, have been found on Cerro Blanco, representative of every regional time period, including Paracas.
Twenty-eight hectares comprise the site of La Tiza, with domestic occupations dating from the Early Horizon (200 BC) through the Late Intermediate Period (AD 1476). Five sectors correspond to the different periods of occupation. New habitation areas were built adjacent to older ones rather than on top of them. The site was settled from east to west so that the oldest evidence of habitation is found in the eastern portion of the site in Sector I and also in lower elevations of Sector II.
Excavations in these areas by Christina Conlee in 2004 revealed Late Early Horizon ceramics consisting mostly of local plainware and a few incised sherds. As none of the material was diagnostic, no temporal or cultural assertions could be made. Therefore, my investigations in 2005 at La Tiza strived to answer questions such as: What cultural identities or affiliations did these early occupants have? When did they first settle there? Were there differences among them in terms of social status? Also, I was interested in investigating the relationship between La Tiza and a neighboring site, called La Puntilla.
The domestic site of La Puntilla is located 3 km from La Tiza, across the Aja River. It is situated on a steep crest between the Aja and Tierras Blancas. It is in visual reach of La Tiza to the north, and from its ceremonial area at the top of the hill, Cerro Blanco can be seen to the south. La Puntilla was the largest site in the southern Nasca drainage at the time of its occupation in Eearly Horizon phase 8. Its occupation was undoubtedly related to the Paracas culture and likely was witness to the Paracas-Nasca transition. Its excavators, Hendrik Van Gijesghem and Juan Carlos de la Torre, make a strong argument that the site was first settled by a group of Paracas elites, possessing Ocucaje phase 8 ceramics, who perhaps migrated from the Ica or Palpa valley. Soon thereafter, there was another wave of occupation at the site by a group with a differing social identity, which Van Gijseghem interprets to be Proto-Nasca. These individuals were restricted to a different area of the site than the Paracas population, and they bore architecture of a lesser quality. Also, they lacked the incised polychrome Paracas wares, and instead possessed blackware bowls and an oxidized variant of the same class, which Van Gijseghem considers to belong to the Nasca 1 phase. Between the Ocucaje phase 8 and Nasca 1 wares there is an arguable shift in cultural affiliation and artistic preference. Van Gijseghem hypothesizes that this ceramic discontinuity was due to a weakening of the elite power and a cultural shift as the new migrants (likely of a lesser social status) realigned their allegiance with local political and religious factions.
I'll now return to my discussion of the incipient settlement at La Tiza. The early occupation of Sectors I and II appears to have been entirely domestic in nature. There is no evidence of areas dedicated to civic/ceremonial activities. Domestic settlements from this time period are often situated along low hills near valley bottoms and are defensible from all sides. (P-Sector pic) At La Tiza, the early occupations are located on the lower, flatter slopes of a large hill. This location would have placed the inhabitants closer to water and fields. However, this proximity compromised the defensibility of the site, leaving it exposed on at least one side. Also related to this aspect of defensibility, several piles of sling stones were identified along a natural ridge dividing Sectors I and II. Perhaps they are related to an element of - or perceived need for - defense during the early occupation of the site. This finding begs the question - "Who were they afraid of?".
As Van Gijseghem has argued, the sling stones may have been in response to tensions between the old Paracas and new Proto-Nasca peoples. It appears that rather than putting distance between them, the Proto-Nasca populations often built in close proximity to the Paracas habitations. Overlap of Ocucaje phase 10 and Nasca 1 ceramics indicate many Paracas sites were expanded and co-inhabited by the Proto-Nasca groups, as was the case at La Puntilla. Sling stones are often located at sites from both time periods. However, after the crystallization of the Nasca culture in the Early Intermediate Period phase 2, sling stones are not present at sites, and habitation areas are less defensible. These findings lend support to idea that this transitional time period was turbulent and strained.
The architecture of Sector I is congruent with construction patterns of the late Early Horizon and Nasca 1 sites. It is composed of agglutinated, rectangular, multi-room compounds. These domiciles usually contain one large room with several smaller rooms attached. No division of labor or specialized activities among the partitioned rooms could be detected from the archaeological remains. The walls are constructed of angular fieldstone with no mortar. This building technique is interesting in comparison with the constructions of La Puntilla. The slope of the hill on which La Puntilla was built is much steeper so terraces were created to accommodate construction. The types of structures built on the contiguous and non-contiguous terraces vary among sectors. Within the elite Paracas sector, stacked fieldstones and vertical rock abutments were utilized for the construction of crescent-shaped structures that are connected in a linear pattern according to the spatial limitations of the terraces. The Nasca 1 sectors possess fewer stone walls and are thought to have contained architecture of mostly perishable material, such as quincha. While the stone walls of La Tiza appear more similar to the elite Paracas structures of La Puntilla, the ceramic material from the La Tiza structures does not indicate elite status. It is probable that perishable construction material was also used at La Tiza, but the remains did not preserve. Surface degradation at the lower elevations is quite extensive, and the detection of architectural elements can be difficult.
Sector I also contains another architectural component. Adjacent to the crest dividing Sectors I and II, a series of circular structures was constructed. They range from 1 to 2 meters in diameter and were also made of local fieldstone. They are completely clean and are thought to be communal storage pits.
The excavation in 2005 of three structures from Sector I and one from Sector II produced late Early Horizon and Nasca 1 material. The non-ceramic material included shell and faunal remains of camelid, rodent and fish. Lithic artifacts included obsidian projectile points, grinding stones of river cobbles, and flakes of andesite, quartzite, and obsidian. Non-vessel ceramic artifacts recovered were spindle whorls, spindle whorl blanks, and smoothing tools.
There were 48 diagnostic ceramic vessel sherds with a minimum vessel count of thiry. The vessel assemblage from these structures was predominately utilitarian in nature. I divided the vessels into 2 categories: bowls and jars. Because none of the rim sherds possessed much of the body of the vessel, full vessel shapes could not be approximated. Therefore, following the studies of Van Gijseghem and de Leonardis, I did not distinguish between jars and ollas.
Ten bowls, varying in shape from shallow to deep, comprise 1/3 of the assemblage. They possess thicker walls than most fineware bowls, with reduced cores and have pastes ranging from medium-fine to coarse. All bowls are slipped, either with a wash of the same clay, or a red or orange slip. The colored slip is often applied to the entire surface or as a band circling the rim of the exterior, interior or both. They are often smoothed and lightly burnished. These bowls appear to resemble the late Paracas plainware and perhaps the oxidized variant of the Nasca 1 bowls found at La Puntilla.
The category of jars I further divided into 4 morphological classes: neckless jars, collared jars, necked jars and tall-necked jars. In general, the jars display less control over the firing atmosphere than the bowls. The neckless jars are mostly wiped smooth, but one has a red slip. They range in color from brown, reddish-brown to gray. Many possess incised lines similar to Silverman's Tajo descriptions and Strong's "Modeled and Incised Proto-Nasca" utilitarian ware. The collared jars are quite variable color, paste quality, temper, and size of inclusions. None bear decoration, but some have a natural-colored slip. The necked jars have sharply everted necks and are generally brown to reddish-brown, with a micacious coarse paste, and a slip of the same clay. None are decorated. The tall-necked jars have the same characteristics but with longer neck lengths and less everted angles.
A number of body sherds bearing Ocucaje phase 8 or Tajo style incisions and appliqué elements were also recovered, likely from vessels of the neckless jar class. Vessel handle styles include semi-circular flat, two-coiled and braided handles, also similar to Tajo types. This picture of La Puntilla incised ceramics demonstrates the similarity of the incised sherds between the two sites.
Overall, the La Tiza ceramics are very congruent with the La Puntilla plainware assemblage in vessel shape, paste color and quality, and surface treatment. This evidence suggests the first permanent occupation at La Tiza occurred during the late Early Horizon. Like the people of La Puntilla, the La Tiza inhabitants were probably also witness to the Paracas-Nasca transition. However, one striking difference between these two sites is the utter paucity of fineware at La Tiza. There are absolutely no fancy Paracas bowls nor Nasca 1 polished blackware. It appears that neither the Paracas elites nor the Proto-Nasca peoples possessing Nasca 1 blackware resided at La Tiza or traded more than utilitarian ceramics with the La Tiza inhabitants. It is currently unclear why the La Tiza people did not participate in or were excluded from the exchange of finer goods. Perhaps they chose not to associate with the old Paracas tradition nor the new emerging Nasca cult and, therefore, fissioned from La Puntilla. Or, if we perceive of La Puntilla as the capital - the nucleus of what has been called the Puntilla region, surrounding sites, such as La Tiza, could have been smaller hamlets. Perhaps only those individuals with higher status or special ties were allowed to reside within the center of La Puntilla. Another hypothesis is that the site of La Tiza existed to fulfill a specific function for La Puntilla, such as activities related to agriculture and surplus storage. At this point, all that remains clear is the obvious distinction in social class between these two sites. For whatever reason, La Tiza did not boast the higher social status that at least some of the La Puntilla residents enjoyed. Further investigation may elucidate the circumstances surrounding the lives of these early pioneers who planted the first sedentary roots at La Tiza that would continue to grow for another 1,500 years.