Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Earliest Americans—Chiripa

The Chiripa culture existed between the Initial Period and the Early Horizon Period, from 1400 B.C. to 850 B.C., and was located along the southern shore of Lake Titicaca in Bolivia. The word Chiripa has several meanings, from “by chance” (such as by sheer luck, by a fluke, stroke of luck, or lucky break), a type of breeches worn by indigenous people of South America, to just a country people, i.e., peasant.
Top: The exposed north face of the Chiripa mound during Michael D. Coe’s 1955 excavations; Bottom: The revealed stone structure belongs to the Chiripa Middle Phase (900-600 B.C.)
    In western Bolivia, on a treeless plain of the altiplano, surrounding Lake Titicaca, the site of Chiripa is a series of structures at 12,500 feet. The excavated settlement has long been interpreted as ordinary houses of a residential village belonging to a relatively localized culture named Chiripa after the site. The complex consists of a large mound platform that dominates the settlement. On the platform is a rectangular sunken plaza with a carved stone in the center—with the Plaza dimensions: 72 x 77 feet totaling 1700 square feet. Rituals occurred in specially prepared public places like the plaza suggesting the importance of rituals in the creation and maintenance of legitimacy and authority.
A view of the southeastern end of Lake Titicaca and the Tiwanaku Valley; Yellow Arrow: Paraco Peninsula; White Arrow: Lake Wifiaymarka (Lake Titicaca is above and to the left); Red Arrow: Tiwanaku; Green Arrow: Puma Punku
    This area, near the Taraco Peninsula juts into the small, southern part of Lake Titicaca called Lake Wifiaymarka in its southwestern corner, sitting below the eastern Cordillera Royal, the large glaciated mountain chain leading to the eastern Andean slopes. The peninsula is built by a small mountain range called the Taraco mountains, and is bounded by water to the west, south and north and by the Tiwanaku Valley to the southeast and the broad Pampa Koani to the northeast.
    In this area the development of several cultures took place and have evidence for prehistoric agricultural raised fields, making this region a focus for past intensive food production. The site of Chiripa lies on the northern shore of the peninsula on a slope rising up from the lake basin that was formed by several older lacustrine terraces, still visible along the peninsula.
Left: Example of a trapezoidal structure; Right: The sunken Plaza at Chiripa
   The main structure was trapezoidal and had a sunken plaza six and a half feet deep with a white yellow clay floor and walls made of stone plastered with yellow clay. There are fourteen upper houses with thatched roofs and double walls of cobble and adobe, arranged in a trapezoid surrounding the sunken plaza. First identified by Anthropologist Wendell Bennet in 1936, each house had decorative wall paintings, prepared yellow clay floors and between building wall bins, believed to be for ceremonial storage. Access to the plaza and upper houses was limited to two openings, each on the North and South side of complex. Access to individual upper houses was a single stone door. Access to wall bins was by a single ornate window.
    Bennet excavated burials in the floors of one of the upper houses, finding most of the stone-marked burials were children or infants. Adult burials were not usually marked. Gold, copper, shell, and lapis (a deep blue semi-precious stone prized since antiquity for its intense color) goods were found in many of the stone-marked infant or child graves. While these goods were only found in the one stone-marked adult grave. Adult skeletal remains were often found in bundles in parts of the site above ground, with their variability goods and structure suggesting different status levels in society.
Hunting of wild guanaco (left), vicuna, and deer was made easy because of the open grasslands, and farmers maintained small gardens where quinoa, potatoes and other plants grew and were harvested for consumption. In addition, domesticated llama and alpaca were herded, and the lake provided abundant resources like fish, fowl, and reeds, which were used for rafts, roof thatching and food. Around 800 B.C, there were samples composed almost entirely of quinoa at Chiripa's social and political center. According to Maria C. Bruno, the site has been divided into three phases based on ceramic styles, architecture and agriculture: Early Chiripa (1500-1000 B.C.), Middle Chiripa (1000-800 B.C.), and Late Chiripa (800 B.C.-A.D. 100
    During the Middle Chiripa phase the population grew, and the village increased to 10 acres, and by the Late phase, Chiripa had grown to almost 20 acres in size as the inhabitants constructed new, more elaborate corporate structures. At this time, the earlier sunken plaza fell into disuse and another sunken enclosure was built; a 165 foot square Montículo, was begun along with a series of rectangular "Lower Houses", which were probably constructed around a small platform. A couple of centuries later, “Upper Houses” were built along with a semi-subterranean court and an open ring of permanent adobe and rock structures. The Montículo served as public ritual space where ancestors were revered and food was served, and possibly stored, for group events.
A field of Quinoa. The seeds are highly nutritious and are used as any grain, for making bread and other edible foodstuff
    During all this time, agricultural production was characterized by small-scale gardening where both quinoa and quinoa negra—a non-domesticated quinoa weed that was gathered—were grown and harvested.
    Around 800 B.C., we find a drastic decrease in the frequency of quinoa negra seeds compared to quinoa seeds, signaling changes in crop management and use. In order to reduce the number of quinoa negra seeds in the yearly harvest, farmers may have begun creating formal fields for the crop, weeding, and practicing more careful seed selection, which coincides with the development of new ritual and political practices at Chiripa. The presence of large quantities of quinoa seeds at the Montículo suggests that this food played an important role in the activities at this location.
    Chiripa was part of the wide-spread Yaya-Mama religious tradition, that appears to have unified populations in the Lake Titicaca Basin. This tradition also directly contributed to Pucara, and in many ways persisted into later, more powerful Tiahuanaco, Huari, and even as late as the Inca society. This tradition, beginning with Chiripa, is named after the style of associated stone sculpture and characterized by 1) temple-storage centers, 2) Yaya-Mama style stone sculpture having supernatural images, associated with the temples, 3) ritual paraphernalia including ceramic trumpets and ceremonial burners, and 4) a supernatural iconography including heads having rayed appendages and a vertically divided eye.
    Why and how so many of these signs of domestication occurred in one place more or less at one time and how these processes related to the changing social world are fascinating questions to the anthropologist. The site of Chiripa, as one of the earliest sites with architecture in this region, is significant to the Andeanists because of its early ritual precinct overlooking the shores of Lake Titicaca, and the fact that many of the traditions initiated at Chiripa continued for centuries through many cultures, some even up to today. It is also significant because it is located near the Tiwanaku site that lasted from several centuries in this area.
    Once again, what may be fascinating questions to the anthropologist, seem understandable within the scriptural record since the facts suggest a more direct tie-in of these ancient cultures as being more like one society spread over a thousand years, such as the Nephite nation.

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