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2935 - Population Crisis caused by changing paleoenvironmental conditions in Palpa, south coast of Peru

In the valleys of Palpa, in southern Peru , we reconstructed the prehispanic settlement history in a long term archaeological research project. We documented a nearly uninterrupted sequence of occupations from the Middle Arcaic (3800 BC) period through the Inka period (1400-1532 AD) which enabled us to trace the development of human societies in the different environments between the desert coast and the highlands. We were mainly interested in the characteristics of cultural changes that happened during this long time span. Some of these changes were gradual, so that archaeologists made more or less artificial divisions based on stylistic changes of artifacts. The transition from the Paracas to the Nasca culture can be considered as such a case.

On the other hand we documented drastic cultural disruptions, marked by fundamental changes in settlement behaviour, population movement or even abandonment of whole regions. These scenarios, which result in the disintegration of social structures and cultural traditions, can be considered as true “crises”. According to our records recovered in settlement surveys and excavations in several sites, the end of the Nasca culture (200 BC-600 AD) was the result of such a crisis. Around 600 AD the Palpa region was nearly abandoned, long cultural traditions (architecture, ceramics, textiles, geoglyphs) were interrupted and replaced by new cultural elements. Searching for the reasons for this population and cultural crisis, during our interdisciplinary research project we identified gradual changes in environmental conditions as one of the main factors for the crisis at the end of the Nasca period. Due to a desertification process that ended in a severe drought around 600 AD, the climate-sensitive region at the foothills of the Andes was abandoned and people moved to the highlands. At the same time major changes ocurred in the highlands, leading to new sociocultural structures in the Central Andes .

Keywords: Settlement, cultural history, paleoenvironment, Nasca, Peru

Author: Reindel, Markus (German Archaeological Institute, Germany / Deutschland)

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