INSTITUTO ARGENTINO DE NIVOLOGIA, GLACIOLOGIA Y CIENCIAS AMBIENTALES
Unidad Ejecutora - UE
congresos y reuniones científicas
Historical Challenges for Desert Peoples: towards the comparative study of responses to intrusions and ecological change
RAQUEL GIL MONTERO; MARIANO S. MORALES
Conferencia; 4th Southern Desert Conference; 2014
The significant concentration of the population in South American Highlands was explained -among other things- by their agricultural development. Two important complex empires developed over 3500 meter above sea level (Tiwanaku -650 to 1050 AD- and Inca -1200 to 153 AD). Southwards, the environmental conditions change and the Lipez Altiplano is more arid and colder, with lower productivity compared to the central and northern Altiplano. Its population density was always low, there was no urbanization and the local economy was mainly based on herding and agriculture of micro-thermic crops, inter-regional commercial trade, hunting and small scale mining. The regional distribution of the population was related to the environment: the majority was concentrated southern of the Uyuni Salt Lake, were quinua agriculture was possible. Following the Spanish conquest, mining allowed an unprecedented demographic development in these highlands deserts. The best known example is Potosí, the most populated city in South America in the early 17th century. In this study, we analyze the influence of mining activities on demography and socio-economic activities in Lipez, also taking into consideration climate change. Following this aim, we analyze regional population trends (1550-1804) and annual payment of indigenous tributes (1550-1825). We also use a 700 year Polylepis tarapacana tree-ring based precipitation reconstruction from the southern Altiplano. Historical records were used to reconstruct socio-economic changes among the native population, and the local history of mining activities. Paleoclimate and historical records were compared during the colonial period between 1550 and 1825, when the Lipez population was forced to pay tributes and to work for the conquerors. Our results indicate that in the mid 17th century the population grew significantly and the demographic center shifted from the southern Uyuni Salt Lake to the southeastern Lipez, where the previous population was only 4% of the region. These changes were associated with the discovery of San Antonio del Nuevo Mundo silver mine, where the majority of the migrants worked. After its decline, a negative population trend was recorded over the centuries. However, the Southeast was not abandoned and continued being important in terms of population. Traditional socioeconomic activities of Lipez were strongly modified by new mining activity until today. Agriculture lost its importance both for the indigenous economy and for the distribution of the population in the region. Climate influenced some aspects of their economy, which one can observe through annual tributes payments. The indigenous population of Lipez stopped paying tributes in the late 1610s for more than 40 years. This cessation coincided with one of the most severe droughts in the paleoclimate record, where for 15 years (1613-1627) rainfall did not reach the historical mean. Despite the environmental extreme conditions of the Lipez Altiplano, San Antonio was one of the most important silver mines in the Potosí province. Like many other mining camps, the labourers of San Antonio were native migrants. Commercial and trade routes were redesigned, and food, tools, clothes and all other goods needed for the activity were supplied from Europe and the rest of the Spanish empire in America. In this context, and in this extreme environment, it seems that the political and economic factors were the major drivers regulating the dynamics of the population, while climate had a secondary role, only significant in some particular periods or local activities.