1.1 Background to the present study

The archaeological fieldwork carried at the large ramp-mound site of Hacienda Zuleta, Imbabura and reported here was part of a much larger project - The Impact of Europe on Ecuador in the 16th Century. The objectives of this larger programme of research sought evidence of changes to indigenous Amerindian society, culture and ecology through changes observable in their material culture and environment consequent upon the Spanish conquest. Sites from different geographic and environmental regions were chosen with evidence of occupations which spanned the late prehistoric, through Inca into the early colonial periods. These would provide a 'baseline' view of indigenous society, culture and environment on the eve of the Spanish conquest, from which subsequent changes could be studied. Given the partial conquest and subjugation of the country now called Ecuador by the invading Inca armies only a generation or so before the arrival of the Spanish themselves, it was considered important, where possible, to distinguish changes wrought by the Inca from those introduced by the Spanish.

Several regions were visited during the initial reconnaissance phases of the work and sites within them evaluated for their potential in providing the data sought. Hacienda Zuleta was chosen for its demonstrable late prehistoric occupation in the form of the ramp-mound site, in a region known through ethnohistorical sources to have been subjugated by the Inca only shortly before the Spanish arrival here, and for the presence of an early colonial period occupation in the form of the Jesuit-founded hacienda. It thereby met the criteria of offering a sequence of occupation spanning the late prehistoric and protohistoric eras into the early colonial period.

The monitoring of changes in soil micromorphology as a result of the introduction of different cultivation practices and through palynological study of changes to local flora across the time period in question was the principal methodology used to provide data on shifts in ecology. Because of these tightly defined objectives, the interventions at all the sites included in the study, including those at Hacienda Zuleta, were carried out with the principal purpose of exposing profiles - to include prehispanic land surfaces where possible - from which soil micromorphology and palynology samples could be taken, albeit within the framework of a cultural sequence with sufficient materials to allow dating. Under these criteria, a full survey of the ramp-mound site (a considerable undertaking in itself) or the excavation of a wider range of features here was not a part of the original fieldwork programme.

During the course of the fieldwork interventions, the finding of important archaeological features, such as the remains of a structure beneath the sampled mound and of field systems retaining direct evidence of the eruption of Quilotoa volcano, called for a more detailed study and interpretation. As data from other aspects of the study were still in the process of analysis and interpretation, it was decided to focus upon the results of the fieldwork programme at Hacienda Zuleta in the short term, as these promised to yield important insights into the interaction of agricultural intensification with the development of socio-political complexity in this region. Together with the role that major environmental impacts such as volcanic eruptions may have played in these processes, the work carried out at Hacienda Zuleta has begun to address a clear need for more research in this whole area (Knapp and Mothes 1998, 150 - 51).


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