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  • La recuperación de tecnologías indígenas: arqueología, tecnología y desarrollo en los Andes
  • Daniel W. Gade
La recuperación de tecnologías indígenas: arqueología, tecnología y desarrollo en los Andes. Alexander Herrera Wassilowsky. Bogotá: Consejo Latinoamericano de Ciencias Sociales CLACSO; Instituto de Estudios Peruanos; Ediciones Unlandes. 2011. 188 pp., maps, photographs, bibliography, index. $COP 35,000. (ISBN 978-958-695-622-2).

More than any other first-order region of South America, the cultural landscapes of the Central Andes bear witness to a pre-Columbian past. Close to half a millennium after the Conquest, the material life of many rural communities is still partly based on ancestral technologies and practices. Other features are now landscape relics. Alexander Herrera, a Peruvian archaeologist trained in the United Kingdom and teaching at the Universidad de los Andes in Bogotá, has synthesized findings on landscape features related to traditional Andean agriculture and pastoralism. Books like this make untenable the Eurocentric assumptions about the superiority of post-Conquest introductions.

About one-fourth of the book addresses "terraforming," that is, the construction of landforms by humans, mainly raised fields in highland Ecuador, the Guayas Basin, and around Lake Titicaca as well as terraces and irrigation canals in Cusco and Northwest Argentina. The author also discusses artisanal dams on the Santa Elena Peninsula of Ecuador and in the Cordillera Negra of Peru. In the latter region, the dams held back water until the dry season to create humid areas called bofedales where llamas grazed. Another chapter covers agroforestry as a response to historic deforestation. Herrera cites the empirical work of a dozen geographers (S. Brooks, W. Denevan, R. Donkin, D. Gade, D. Harris, G. Knapp, K. Mathewson, J. Parsons, R. Ryder, C. Sauer, C. Troll and K. Zimmerer). The book is not a systematic treatment of Andean indigenous technologies nor does it offer much detailed information about them. For example, the chaquitaclla is invoked several times as if readers already knew a good deal about this foot plow invented before the Incas. Plant and animal domestication gets minor attention. Nothing is included in the book about traditional storage facilities, sunken fields, roads, bridges, chicha elaboration or dehydrating the potato to make chuño.

The author's main objective is to highlight the erosion of traditional knowledge ("saberes") and the effort needed to rehabilitate abandoned aspects of the native Andean achievement in land use and agriculture. Andean people are surrounded by functional and non-functional elements of the past, but they live in the present. Their rationale for rehabilitation, always pragmatic, is more economic than sentimental. More than anything else, tourism provides the impetus to preserve and restore the past, for that is what visitors come to see. It is in highland southern Peru, where tourism is a major contributor to local and regional economies, that retrieval of the past resonates the most. The biggest problem is to assure that local communities, not just the tour operators from the outside, are the chief beneficiaries of these efforts to reconnect with the traditional. Without paying visitors, restoration of native technology and the past landscapes shaped by these techniques becomes problematical. Creative effort is not necessarily sustained. Restoring raised fields near Lake Titicaca as a subsistence strategy gained international publicity in the 1980s and 1990s, but other priorities emerged as time went on and by 2003 the raised field experiment ended. To a considerable extent, the Chuqñakuta project was a matter of local [End Page 210] people responding to the enthusiasm of advocates from the outside. In spite of considerable interest in bringing abandoned stone-bank terraces with their irrigation systems back into agricultural production, little progress has actually been made. The hand labor necessary for these projects is no longer cheap or abundant. And yet, archaeological sites scarcely known 50 years ago now receive flows of visitors. Certain native Andean food plants are now grown more than they were half a century ago. Quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa), exported from the Andes but also commercially grown in the United States, is commonly found in North American health food stores. No one in the 1960s could have predicted the resurgence that maca...


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