Wild Resources in the Andes: Algarrobo, Chanar and Palqui: Implications for Archaeology

Claudia Rivera-Casanovas

MA Thesis 2002

Modern agricultural development paradigms have created particular visions about the role of domesticated and wild plants in the economy of societies. These paradigms also often shape the ideas scientist have in regard how societies make use of vegetal resources. Notions deeply rooted in such paradigms have induced scholars to consider certain crops as staples, and ignore the critical role of the other, lesser-known, crops and wild resources for seveal human societies.

In general, it has been assumed that sedentary societies in the past relied for subsistence mainly on agricultural activities, and assumed that collection of wild plants was a complementary activity that lost importance as societies evolved, and gained in complexity. However, there is important evidence from around the world, and particulary in the Andes, showing an integrated relationship between agricultural practices and management of wild nutritive plants, regardless of time and social complexity. This relationship is particulary significant in regions with dry environments. Here, the exploitation of wild plants was as important as agriculture itself, and played an important role in terms of subsistence, risk management, and even exchange.

In this paper, I examine the economic importance leguminous tree had for populations settled in the dry, interandean valleys of the southern Andes. Based on botanical, archaeological, ethnohistorical and ethnographic information about the nutritional qualities of these plants and their cultural management, I will explore the potential of these plants as a source of subsistence, and their potentially critical role for managing agricultural failure in prehispanic times.

Estimates of algarrobo (Prosopis sp.), chanar (Geoffroes decorticans), and palqui fruit (Acacia feddeana) production, will be made for the Cinti valley, Bolivia, from the Formative Period to the Late Horizon. The objective of this analysis was to estimate the population that these fruits alone could have sustained during each period, and, in this manner, to assess whether these plants should be considered as basci resources to prehispanic societies. To understand and consider wild plant usage has enormous implications for Andean archaelogy, and our perception of prehispanic societies and their economic strategies.