Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Shimada, Izumi


In the central Andes, complex civilizational processes and dramatic biophysical phenomena have concurred for thousands of years. The confluence of these cultural and natural forces implies that environmental disturbances should be neither overemphasized nor ignored but adequately included as a variable in the modeling of the cultural processes of the Andean prehistory. In this sense, it is justified to clarify why and how people from pre-Hispanic urban centers preferred to accept risk associated with disaster-prone settings and how they eventually developed social responses to biophysical hazards through centuries.Framed within this purpose, this dissertation takes as a case study the prehistoric urban center of Cajamarquilla (138 ha) located in a flood-prone sector on the arid Peruvian central coast, and occupied mainly but intermittently for a period of almost 800 years between ca. AD 650 and 1400 (from the Middle Horizon to the Late Intermediate Period). My research was built on the basis of theoretical and methodological contributions of the Historical Ecology, Anthropology of Disasters, and Environmental Archaeology. Thus, it included conventional archeological procedures, a geomorphological characterization of the study area, and archaeobotanical and geoarchaeological methods and techniques. Although a range of contexts were analyzed, the study of the hydraulic (first-order irrigation canals) and storage (underground silos) systems associated with the site were strongly emphasized. Results indicate that the interspersed occurrence of droughts and floods with phases of dynamic constructive activity in Cajamarquilla express a form of risk normalization. This included the maximum use of clay soils and the involvement of the site residents with planned abandonment processes, although apparently sudden final abandonment has also been documented. While it has been verified that occupational dynamics in Cajamarquilla were constantly constrained by regional eco-climatic conditions, these always responded simultaneously to the socio-political controls of each era, so that social responses were not only multifactorial in their origins but also multipurpose in their ends, an illustration of this being the thousands of bottle-shaped, capacious silos that characterize the site. This makes sense with the integrative culture-nature worldviews of the indigenous Andean societies. Finally, this investigation also finds that, beyond the common socio-environmental connotation noted above, social action in Cajamarquilla also shows substantial differences between its different cultural occupations when dealing with environmental determinants: Its earliest inhabitants carefully planned an ambitious technological equipment (canals and silos), while its later inhabitants were characterized by their marked sense of opportunism and pragmatism both in the use/readjustment of such inherited technologies and the rules of community life within the settlement. In general, beyond usual binary frames that oppose determinism versus possibilism, or collapse versus resilience, the case of Cajamarquilla raises the anthropological need for an integrative approach focused on how and to what extent cultural and natural forces intermingle in urban life.

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