Archaeological survey in the high llanos and Andean piedmont of Barinas, Venezuela. [1] ; Anthropological papers of the American Museum of Natural History, no. 86

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[New York] : American Museum of Natural History
"This is the first of a series of monographs about an archaeological project that the authors carried out in the high llanos and Andean piedmont of the Distrito Pedraza, Barinas, Venezuela. We were interested in documenting the evolution of prehistoric chiefdoms in the western Venezuelan llanos and in assessing the possibility that intersocietal interaction such as exchange and warfare played a role in chiefdom development here. We benefited from reading the early historic accounts of the European explorers and missionaries who encountered chiefdoms in the western Venezuelan llanos in the sixteenth century. Also, we wanted to build on the findings of a few archaeologists who had conducted archaeological investigations in the western Venezuelan llanos to answer questions of chronology, settlement, and subsistence. Our research design called for monitoring prehistoric cultural developments in a study region centered on the Canagu‰a River valley, extending across the high llanos and up into the adjacent piedmont, wherein we would collect archaeological data on regional settlement patterns, community organization, households and subsistence practices, and artifact distributions within and between settlements. In this volume, we present the Barinas project's research design, introduce the chronological sequences that we established for the Andean piedmont and high llanos, and report the findings of the first phase of field investigations: the five seasons of regional survey we conducted in our 450 km2 study region centered on the Canagu‰a River valley. The bulk of this volume is devoted to detailed descriptions of 103 archaeological sites. Sites of the Curbat‰i complex dated to A.D. 300-1000 are restricted to the piedmont, where they are typically located on remnant river terraces overlooking stretches of farmable alluvium. Our survey revealed evidence of a two-level settlement-size hierarchy for Curbat‰i-complex sites in the Curbat‰i and upper Canagu‰a River valleys. While Curbat‰i-complex sites never have earthworks, some Curbat‰i-complex sites in the Curbat‰i River valley are associated with petroglyphs. One of these sites was La Esmeralda (B8), the largest Curbat‰i-complex settlement, which extended over 8 ha of an alluvial terrace on which stood a large boulder bearing petroglyphs. A similar two-level settlement-size hierarchy obtained for sites in the piedmont of the later CaŠno Seco complex, dated to A.D. 1000-1550, although there is evidence of population growth in the number and areal extent ([< or = to] 25 ha) of CaŠno Seco settlements, especially in the upper Canagu‰a River valley. The only CaŠno Seco-complex site associated with petroglyphs, however, was the small (3.125 ha) site of La Piedra Herrada (B20) in the Curbat‰i River valley. All but one of the petroglyphs discovered in our study region were confined to the Curbat‰i River valley. Sites with Gav‰an-complex ceramics dated to A.D. 300-1000 are largely restricted to the high llanos, where our survey revealed a clear regional hierarchy of three levels according to site size and associated mounded architecture. The 33 ha site of El Gav‰an (B12), with its linear plaza flanked by tall earthen mounds, house mounds, and associated earthworks and causeways stood at the top of the settlement hierarchy. Linked by causeway to the regional center were five second-order settlements with similar mound configurations, only on a smaller scale. The lowest level of the regional settlement hierarchy consisted of 28 habitation sites smaller than 5 ha in area and without visible mounded architecture. We located, mapped, and test-excavated a 35 ha drained-fields facility (B27) southeast of the regional center of El Gav‰an; another expanse of drained fields may have existed northwest of the regional center at site B52 on the fertile alluvium of the CaŠno Mitiao Hondo. We estimate that the potential maize yields reaped on these drained fields would have greatly exceeded the subsistence requirements of the nearest habitation sites (B26, B98). Due to the drained fields' proximity to causeways leading to the regional center, we propose that the considerable agricultural surplus produced on the drained fields was delivered to the regional elite at El Gav‰an (B12). The discovery of four third-order habitation sites with Gav‰an-complex ceramics in the upper Canagu‰a River valley, associated with large tracts of fertile alluvium, raises questions about the relationship and intersocietal interaction between the inhabitants of the high llanos and the adjacent forested piedmont in late Gav‰an times. The oval causeway that encloses the regional center of El Gav‰an may have served in part as a defensive earthwork. The degree of centralized regional organization manifested by the Gav‰an-complex settlement hierarchy, with the array of mounded architecture, the network of intersite causeways, and the implementation of drained-field agriculture, are commensurate with the archaeological manifestations expected for chiefly societies. The paramount chiefdom centered at El Gav‰an (B12) did not persist until the European incursions in the sixteenth century. We located eight CaŠno Seco-complex (ca. A.D. 1000-1550) sites on the high llanos, which adhered to the two-level settlement-size hierarchy obtained for CaŠno Seco-complex sites in the adjacent piedmont. We also located 10 sites of the early historic period on the high llanos that we assigned to the Chuponal complex and tentatively date to A.D. 1550-1850. The largest and greatest density of Chuponal settlements occurred on the El Chuponal alluvium, east and across the Canagu‰a River from the town of Pedraza (Ciudad Bolivia), which was founded in 1591"--P. 10-11.
343 p. : ill., maps (1 col.) ; 26 cm.
Includes bibliographical references (p. 338-343).