Fields of conflict: A political ecology approach to land and social transformation in the colonial Andes (Cuzco, Peru)

Publication date: Available online 20 June 2017Source:Journal of Archaeological Science
Author(s): Steve Kosiba, R. Alexander Hunter
This paper presents a political ecological framework for Geographic Information Systems (GIS) analysis to examine changes in agricultural land in ancient and early historical contexts. It raises several issues pertinent to archaeological epistemology and science, with a particular focus on the limitations of using fixed data categories to examine fluid environmental processes and ecological relationships. The paper draws on political ecological theories that define land as a social process, moving beyond economic conceptions of agricultural land that rest on productive capacity and phenomenological theories that examine the physical environment in terms of cultural perception. It combines qualitative (archival) and quantitative (archaeological) data in a GIS methodology to address how linked changes in physical land attributes and labor routines can affect regional ecologies and foment social conflict. In empirical terms, the paper traces changes from maize to wheat fields during Spanish colonization (ca. 1533-1670) in Ollantaytambo, Peru, a monumental Inca town near the capital of their empire. It reveals how ecological transformations that occurred during this century–widespread deaths throughout, abandonment of Inca fields, and introduction of European biota–in part framed conflicts between Andean people and the colonial regime, and also empowered local farmers to claim land in previously undeveloped areas.