5.0. Discussion

The two phases of fieldwork carried out at Hacienda Zuleta represent the first serious archaeological study of this large and important ramp mound site and, although rather limited in scale, have already begun to reveal important information about the nature of the site and its occupation. We now know something of the method of construction of some of the larger hemispherical mounds here and have confirmed the presence of structures buried beneath at least some of them. The radiocarbon date deriving from the pre-mound paleosol associated with the stone-walled structure suggests a time-depth to the occupation of this site that may span several centuries, perhaps from around the 11th century AD until the Inca conquest. This is in line with data from excavations carried out at other large ramp-mound sites in the region, which in general confirm a long occupation of such sites. For example, Stephen Athens found that mounds were being constructed at the Socapamba ramp-mound site from at least A.D. 700 and possibly earlier (Athens 1978: 122-139, 1980: 124-138), and the occupation at Cochasquí appears to date from around A.D. 950, a date approximately contemporary with the earlier date range for the pre-mound surface at Zuleta (Oberem 1975: 79).

Questions about both the broad and more detailed pictures do remain to be addressed by future research. For example, whilst there is a radiocarbon date of 1745 cal. B.C. for peat from an ancient lake bed, it is not yet known whether there was a contemporary Formative period occupation of the site. When did occupation first begin at the site, when did it begin to be occupied continuously and what were the nature of the different phases of occupation and their subsistence basis? We know from palynological analysis of lake bed cores in the region that the cultivation of maize in the northern sierra dates back at least to 4200 cal. B.P. These data suggest that much of the interandean forest in this area had already been cleared by this period, further interpreted to mean that swiddening of forested regions had already given way to fixed plot agriculture by this time (Athens nd). At Lake El Cunrru, close to Angochagua (Figure 2), core data have identified abundant zea and other cultigens such as quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa) between 3100 and 1500 B.P. (Steinitz-Kannan et al 1986: 11) confirming that agriculturally active settlements were in this immediate locality, the occupants growing maize from the Formative period onwards (although data for the uppermost sector of the core from c.1000 B.P. require a fuller analysis). Preliminary results from pollen analysis of the peat dated to 1745 cal B.C. at Zuleta support the interpretation of extensive forest clearance for this period, with few tree species present but with much charcoal indicative of burning, although no maize pollen per se has been found so far. Further south, on the northern flanks of Cerro Cayambe, the early ceramic site of La Chimba puts the settlement data of this region back to 2640 to 1700 cal. B.P. (Athens 1998). Given these other findings of early settlement and agriculture in the locality it would be surprising not to find equivalent earlier settlement data at Zuleta.

Investigations of other mounds at the site, in different locations as well as different types of mounds, will clarify whether the whole site was occupied at the same time or whether some types of mound significantly predate others. They may also determine how the pattern of occupation and mound-building developed across time. It now seems certain that the large quadrilateral mounds post-date the Quilotoa eruption, but additional research will tell us when they began to be constructed and clarify some of the questions pertaining to their use. The second fieldwork phase afforded the first confirmation of the existence of camellones in the area, but the extent of these pre-Hispanic field systems needs to be determined in order to calculate population densities with more confidence. More detailed examination of the extent and nature of the tephra deposits infilling the ditches will give an opportunity to study the effects of the ash falls and for how long they affected agricultural productivity at the site. Similarly, further environmental research, particularly with soils micromorphology, will yield much more detailed information upon the nature of the different forms of indigenous agricultural systems as the critical subsistence basis for such communities.


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Last updated: Thu Apr 5 2001