3.2 Estimating population densities at the Zuleta Llajta

Fieldwork carried out at Hacienda Zuleta in 1998 has confirmed the existence of camellones and similar agricultural features here and is therefore important in shaping our understanding of the subsistence basis for this site. Using population estimates and agricultural models of carrying capacity worked out by researchers studying this problem (Knapp 1984; 1988; 1991), an attempt to model population levels at the site may be made with more confidence. Knapp (1991, 181) has calculated population estimates for the Caranqui region as a whole to be up to 170,000, and if this total is then divided by the known number of ramp-mound sites, which are between 19 and 22 (including the Caranqui site itself, formerly excluded from the Gondard and López (1983) original survey), it is possible to calculate an average population of between 7,727, and 8,947 for individual chiefdoms or llajta, assuming each ramp-mound site represents its political centre (see e.g. Athens 1992). Although such projections are estimates at best, it is unlikely that these approximations are complete distortions. Ethnohistoric sources refer to high population densities in the pre-Inca period. The method of intensive crop production through the use of labour-intensive raised fields also infers large populations, both to be supplied by the crops grown there as well as to provide labour to work the fields. The size of the different political centres and amount of work effort required to construct a large mound (Athens and Osborn 1974) are other factors that support the idea of high populations in the region at this time.

Although we do not know the full extent of the camellón systems in the valley bottom of the Río Tahuando, given their location amongst extant mounds and the presence of a much larger hectarage of flats with few associated mounds, it seems not unlikely that much of this valley region would have been cultivated in this manner. We know that this is the case for other sites, and that sizeable tracts of camellones once occupied the flat swampy regions in the Cayambe locality for example, or around Lago San Pablo (Gondard and López 1983). The area of flats from Zuleta north to Angochagua is at least 5km² and up to 8km² when additional land to the south and west around Hacienda La Merced is considered. This would be included within the 30km² referred to above as potentially available in the maize-growing elevations (up to 3,200m) for cultivation. Terrain receiving a mean annual precipitation of around 1,000mm is estimated to have been capable of supporting up to 800 people per km² of raised fields if these were cultivated to the maximum, assumed to have been the case for a chief's lands with his ready access to servile labour (Knapp 1991, 165-70). We can therefore suggest that 5km² of intensive raised field agriculture would support a population of around 4,000 people. The remaining 25km² of what were probably unirrigated lands given over to maize cultivation would have supported up to an additional 60 persons per km² or 1,500 for 25km², and up to 40 additional persons per km² for land at the higher elevations (between 3,200-3,600m) used to grow potatoes, giving us an estimated total population of nearly 6,000 persons for the 40km² of llajta lands under discussion. These figures would of course increase significantly if more land had been used for raised field cultivation, or if land had been irrigated for the growth of maize, which is possible for the lower hill slopes of the region. Limitations are that we still know relatively nothing of the likely additional resource base of the postulated llajta, for example beyond assessing production for settlements upon the hill slopes immediately in the locality.

Work carried out by Salomon (1986), Caillavet (1988) and Knapp (1991) suggest a population of 4,538 for the postulated llajta at the combined ramp-tola sites of Atuntaqui-Imbaqui-Cotocachi and around 11,000 for what became the large colonial period encomienda at Otavalo. As it is generally held that, following the Spanish conquest, depopulation rates of up to 4:1 may apply (Newson 1995, 39), the implication is for very much higher figures relating to the pre-Inca period. A figure of 6,000 persons is therefore suggested as being a likely minimum population for the area immediately related to the chiefly centre based at the ramp-mound sites of Zuleta and the subsidiary site of Angochagua, but it would not be unreasonable to suggest significantly higher population figures for the overall region, which would presumably have included additional small settlements or parcialidades, without tolas.

The Relaciones Geográficas of 1582 and other colonial period sources have allowed a calculation of 2,891 combined total population for the named reducciones of 'Carangue' (i.e. Caranqui) and San Antonio (de Ibarra) in the corregimiento of Otavalo, established in 1563 (Espinosa Soriano 1988, 104, 110; Newson 1995, 166-68). As noted earlier, there seem to be no data specifically referring to Zuleta, but it is likely that residual dispersed communities in the region that survived the population upheavals of the post-Inca wars were later forcibly relocated into these reducciones during the early colonial period. Using the aforementioned depopulation ratios of up to 4:1, a potential population of 11,564 persons for the Caranqui chiefdom as a whole, including Zuleta's llajta, is therefore suggested from the ethnohistoric data.

The whole question of population levels in the Ecuadorean sierra for the precolumbian period immediately preceding the Inca wars is a complex one, and has been studied and discussed in great detail by researchers such as Larrain Barros (1980), Espinosa Soriano (1988) and Newson (1995). A fuller discussion of this issue as it pertains to the study region in question is outside the scope of this article.


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