2.2 Intensive agricultural base and related demography

Another important distinguishing feature of the Late Period occupations in the sierra was their extensive use of 'raised' or 'ridged' fields called camellones, whereby an area between about 2.5 and 3.5 metres wide and several metres long was produced by the excavation of ditches on either side and the mounding of the excavated material along the centre (Figure 4).

Figure 4
Figure 4. Camellones surviving under pasture in the Cayambe region of Ecuador's northern sierra

The ditches facilitated drainage in the swampy valley bottoms, whilst the water itself regulated the surface temperature of the growing area and kept it frost-free at the higher altitudes, thereby allowing the production of frost-sensitive crops like maize or potatoes. Phosphate and organically-rich debris periodically cleaned out of the ditch fills was then redeposited on the growing surface as an efficient fertilizer, in combination with other available manures, such as human and guinea-pig dung (Knapp 1991, 108). It is debatable whether camelids actually constituted a significant resource in the northern sierra before the Inca conquest of the region (Knapp 1991, 102, 107; Salomon 1986, 81-82). Such practices as these would have allowed an intensive year-round production of crops. Remnants of once extensive areas of these camellones, often in combination with tola occupation, have been documented in the flat sometimes swampy valley bottoms of the sierra (Gondard and López 1983). At the southern end of Lago San Pablo close to Hacienda Cusín, camellones were found to be actually structurally integrated into a small ramp tola in a stratigraphic manner that affirmed their overall contemporaneity (Molestina 1985). The location of buried systems in recent campaigns of fieldwork continue to confirm their former extensive nature (Athens 1998; Villalba Sevilla 1998 and this paper), and they evidently sustained what are believed to have been the high population densities of the Late Period here (Athens 1978; Knapp 1984; 1988; 1991; Knapp and Ryder 1983). Population estimates based upon modelled agricultural productivity and extrapolations from visita census data suggest a combined population for the Caranqui-Cayambe region of 72,000-88,000 people before the Inca conquest (Knapp 1991, 180).

It is generally believed that the final capitulation of the Caranqui to the Inca shortly before the arrival of the Spanish resulted in a massive depopulation of the region as a whole. This was both through death during the protracted wars of conquest and through the subsequent relocation of large numbers of the surviving captive population as mitmakuna south to other parts of the empire (Espinosa Soriano 1988, I:292; Newson 1995, 37, 131). Evidence of this turbulent period can be found upon the summits of hills throughout the northern sierra, where defended hill-top fortresses or pucaraes are to be found, believed to have been constructed either by the besieged Caranqui tribes during their long war with the Incas, or by the Incas themselves to assist in their war and in the subjugation of the conquered peoples.


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