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Land of winds > The land > History | Issue 04. Mar.-Apr.2011
By Edgardo Civallero | Sara Plaza

The Prehispanic Argentinean Andes

History prehispanic Argentina
The first signs of human presence in the Argentinean Andes date back to 11,000 years B.C. considering the archaeological evidence found at the sites of Piedra Museo and Los Toldos, in the province of Santa Cruz (Patagonia). These early inhabitants were mylodont (extinct ground sloth), hippidion (extinct South American horses), guanaco and ñandú (rhea) hunters, who left behind lithic instruments and extraordinary samples of cave painting, like the ones in the Cueva de las Manos (“Cave of the hands”) and in the valley of the Pinturas River (Santa Cruz).

Picture.
Prehistoria de Argentina, in Wikipedia [es].
Piedra Museo, in Wikipedia.
Los Toldos, in Wikipedia [es].
Cueva de las Manos, in Wikipedia.


The north-western region of Argentina was home to a great number of cultures. The oldest one is the so-called Condorhuasi culture (province of Catamarca, 400 B.C.-700 A.D.). They were llama shepherds and gatherers (carob and chañar) who created very interesting pieces of pottery and beautiful anthropomorphic stone figurines known as “supplicants”. As suggested by archaeological findings Condorhuasi people, like many other pre-Hispanic peoples in the region, used entheogens in a ritualized context (e.g. cebil, whose main active constituent is bufotenin, from Anadenanthera seeds). This culture was linked to the Alamito and other local cultures.
For their part, the Tafí and La Ciénaga cultures, contemporary of the former, developed in the provinces of Tucumán and Catamarca between 300 B.C. and 600 A.D. These peoples grew maize in terraces and watered their crops by using a sytem of irrigation canals. Special mentions deserve Tafí menhires and La Ciénaga pottery, locally manufactured with clay deposits found in the valley and decorated with engraved designs on dark background.
None of these Formative Period cultures left any musical instrument behind.

Condorhuasi culture, in Wikipedia [es].
Alamito culture, in Wikipedia [es].
Tafí culture, in Wikipedia [es].
La Ciénaga culture, in Wikipedia [es].

Picture 01. Supplicants 01.
Picture 02. Supplicants 02.
Picture 03. Example of Condorhuasi pottery 01.
Picture 04. Example of Condorhuasi pottery 02.
Picture 05. Menhires, Tafí culture 01.
Picture 06. Menhires, Tafí culture 02.
Picture 07. Pottery, La Ciénaga culture.


History prehispanic Argentina
Probably the most Andean of all pre-Hispanic civilizations, the La Aguada or Ambato culture existed between 600 and 900 A.D. (Middle Period), in the provinces of Catamarca and La Rioja. Linked to the Tiahuanaco culture, its religion featured mainly the worship of the jaguar, whose figure is present in every artistic expression (especially on its pottery). This people grew squash, beans, maize and peanuts that were carried on the back of llamas and offered in exchange in northern Chile settlements on the other side of the Cordillera. In addition they practised the metallurgy of bronze and created axe blades, tweezers and sheet-metal ornaments.

Picture.
La Aguada culture, in Wikipedia [es].
La Aguada culture, in Chilean Museum of Pre-Columbian Art [es].

Picture 08. Pottery, La Aguada culture 01.
Picture 09. Pottery, La Aguada culture 02.
Picture 10. Pottery, La Aguada culture 03.
Picture 11. Pottery, La Aguada culture 04.
Picture 12. La Aguada culture motif.


History prehispanic Argentina
From 900 to ca. 1470 a series of regional domains developed in northwestern Argentina. Cochinocas and Casabindos domains were located in the puna region (high plateau) of Jujuy province. The Quebrada de Humahuaca and eastern valleys of Jujuy were home to Omaguacas (including Purmamarcas, Uquías, Tilcaras and Quilatas partialities), Jujuyes, Ocloyas and Pulares domains. Along the northern border between the province of Jujuy and present-day Bolivia established Lípez and Chichas domains, while the Atacama people or Lickan Antay settled in the adjoining region between the Argentinean provinces of Jujuy and Salta and the current Chilean territory. This people will be featured in more detail in the magazines’s issue dedicated to Chile (issue 7, sep.-oct. 2011).

Picture.
Omaguaca, in Wikipedia [es].
Atacama people, in Wikipedia.
La “historia” de los señores étnicos de Casabindo y Cochinoca, (“History” of Casabindo and Cochinoca ethnic domains), by Silvia Palomeque [es].
Ethnic map of north-western Argentina.
Atacama people, in Chilean Museum of Pre-Columbian Art [es].

Picture 13. Present-day descendants of the Casabindos.
Picture 14. Present-day descendants of the Ocloyas.
Picture 15. Present-day descendants of the Atacama people.


The domains known under the general term of “Diaguitas” or “Calchaquíes” were located further south, in the current provinces of Salta, Catamarca, La Rioja and Tucumán. Their numerous partialities (including Pacciocas, Amaichas, Andalgalás, Quilmes, Hualfines and Olongastas, among many others) where farmers who grew maize, beans, potatoes and quinoa (a grain-like crop), gathered carob pods and chañar seeds and fruits and grazed camelids. They used llamas as load animals during their long journeys to move back and forth products, and developed the metallurgy of copper, bronze, gold and silver. These tribes spoke the Kakán language and handed down to us beautiful bronze bells and several aerophones, besides huge vessels and ceramics urns known nowadays as “Santa María style”.

Diaguita, in Wikipedia.

Picture 16. Pottery, Santa María culture 01.
Picture 17. Pottery, Santa María culture 02.
Picture 18. Pottery, Santa María culture 03.
Picture 19. Pottery, Santa María culture 04.


The Inca arrival to north-western Argentina and their subsequent settlement in the area happened in 1470. This region became part of the Kollasuyu, the southernmost province of the Tawantinsuyu. The Incas built pukara (fortresses), roads and tanpu (Spanish “tambos”: warehouses along the major routes where lodging, food, and clothing were available for travellers) across their vast territory and made offerings and sacrifices on the highest Andean summits (considered to be sacred). This is the case of Llullaillaco, on whose summit (22,000 ft) the frozen bodies of three mummified Inca children were found in 1999.
The Inca occupation of this region lasted until 1532 when the Spanish conquerors came to this part of the word. Most of the regional domains disappeared as the colonization process moved forward. Many of these tribes, influenced by the Inca and the Spanish colonizers, merged and the now-unified group were the ancestors of today’s Kolla people.
Diaguita people fought fiercely and unsuccessfully against Castilians in the so-called “Guerras Calchaquíes” (Calchaquí Wars), which ended in mid-17th century. At present, over 30,000 Argentineans, mainly inhabitants of the Calchaquí Valleys, recognize their Diaguita background. They are the repositories of a particular musical tradition: the vidalas and bagualas.

Llullaillaco mummies, in Wikipedia.
Pucará, in Wikipedia.
Guerras Calchaquíes, in Wikipedia [es].

Picture 20. One of the mummies found on Llullaillaco’s summit.
Picture 21. Tilcara pucara (Jujuy).


The central Argentinean Andes, in the current provinces of Mendoza, San Juan (south) and Neuquén (north) was home to the Huarpe people. Today we know that they gathered carob pods and grew maize and potatoes rather sporadically besides being excellent potters and basket weavers. They were divided into four partialities (allentiak, milkayak, chikiyam and huanacache) and suffered the influence of the Incas, who ruled their northernmost territories and modified Huarpe customs. In mid-18th century their population began to decrease and at present-day there are over 15,000 mixed race descendants of this people spread across Argentina. We know very little about their music and the only sign of their language are a couple of works by Jesuit Luis de Valdivia which exhibit a few traces of it.

Huarpe people, in Wikipedia.
Huarpe language, in Chilean memory [es].

Picture 22. Huarpes, historical photograph.


The Mapuche and Tehuelche peoples inhabited the Patagonian Andes. The former will be featured in more detail in the magazine’s issue dedicated to Chile (issue 7, sep.-oct. 2011). The Tehuelche people populated the current provinces of Chubut and Santa Cruz. Its name derives from Mapudungu chewellche, “brave people”, though different groups gave themselves different names such as the Gününa-küna or “Northern Tehuelche” and the Aonikenk or “Southern Tehuelche”. Some aspects of their organization and the classification of different tribes continue being discussed nowadays. Although some groups settled in the hillsides of the Cordillera, which always appears in their myths, most of them moved to the Patagonian steppes where they lived on hunting and gathering.
At present, Aonikenk population in Argentina is estimated to be around two hundreds, less than half of which speak their native language. The vestiges of their culture and tradition are few, and only such instruments as the musical bow koólo and the drum made of armadillo shell ápel, are still alive in the memory of the elders.

Tehuelche people, in Wikipedia.
The Tehuelches, in Mapa humano (Human map of peoples, ethnic groups and cultures) [es].

Picture 23. Tehuelches, historical photograph 01.
Picture 24. Tehuelches, historical photograph 02.


The Cordillera of the Andes in the Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego (literally Great Island of the Land of Fire) was sparsely inhabited by the native peoples of the island. Some families of Selk’nam travelled along the mountains, though preferred to settle in plains and coastal areas. The peoples Qawásqar (Alacaluf) and Yámana (Yagán), also natives to this region, were canoeros (nomads who travelled by canoe) and inhabited the southern fjords and coast of Chile, hence they can not be considered as inhabitants of the Fuegian Andes.

Selknam people, in Wikipedia.
Alacaluf people, in Wikipedia.
Yagán people, in Wikipedia.

Some basic information extracted from the book “Culturas indígenas de los Andes meridionales” (Indigenous cultures of the southern Andes), by E. Berberián y R- Raffino.
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