Central Andean Environments

  • Daniel H. Sandweiss
  • James B. RichardsonIII

The Andes is a region of great environmental diversity, and the period of human occupation over the last 13,000 or more years has been a time of change in climate and environment. Our understanding of the ancient people of the Andes must be embedded in this physical context. In this chapter, we focus on the Central Andes—or modern day Peru, highland Bolivia, Ecuador, and northern Chile (Figure 6.1). We also recommend Chapter 2 in Moseley (2001) and Chapter 1 in Richardson (1994).

Though lying mostly in the southern tropics, the Central Andes includes high, snow-capped peaks, rich intermontane valleys, well-watered eastern slopes dropping to the Amazon jungle, and arid western slopes descending to a coastal desert broken by irrigable valleys and fronting one of the world’s richest fisheries (Figure 6.2). Within this general setting lie a multitude of microenvironments, the location, size, and productivity of which have varied as climate changed and natural and cultural forces altered the landscape and necessarily affected human-environment interactions. As one outcome of this diversity, ancient Andean people found and domesticated a wide variety of plants adapted to the range of available habitats (see National Research Council 1989; see Chapter 7 in this volume). The number of domesticated animals, however, was not correspondingly large, consisting of guinea pigs, several birds, llama, and alpaca; the dog came into the region early but already domesticated.

Technology, history, cultural practices, religion, perception, and individual and group idiosyncrasies can all affect the way a society and its members dynamically interact with their environment and respond to environmental and climatic change (Sandweiss et al. 2001). Nevertheless, people must make a living from the natural world around them, and when that world changes, they must respond in some way. How humans took advantage of, altered, or succumbed to the physical conditions imposed by the Andean region through time is an important part of regional prehistory. Indeed, the special characteristics of the Central Andean environment play major roles in many influential if controversial ideas about the Andean past (e.g., rich ocean: maritime foundations of Andean civilization, Moseley 1975 but cf. e.g., Raymond 1981; highland microenvironments: ecological complementarity/“verticality,” Murra 1972 but cf. e.g., van Buren 1996).


Quaternary Research South American Plate Peruvian Coast Late Intermediate Period Obsidian Source 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Daniel H. Sandweiss
    • 1
  • James B. RichardsonIII
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of MaineOronoUSA
  2. 2.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of PittsburghPittsburghUSA

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