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The Rise and Fall of Wiñaymarka: Rethinking Cultural and Environmental Interactions in the Southern Basin of Lake Titicaca

Abstract

Investigations of how past human societies managed during times of major climate change can inform our understanding of potential human responses to ongoing environmental change. In this study, we evaluate the impact of environmental variation on human communities over the last four millennia in the southern Lake Titicaca basin of the Andes, known as Lake Wiñaymarka. Refined paleoenvironmental reconstructions from new diatom-based reconstructions of lake level together with archaeological evidence of animal and plant resource use from sites on the Taraco Peninsula, Bolivia, reveal frequent climate and lake-level changes within major cultural phases. We posit that climate fluctuations alone do not explain major past social and political transformations but instead that a highly dynamic environment contributed to the development of flexible and diverse subsistence practices by the communities in the Titicaca Basin.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    This long drought was produced by a combination of warm Tropical North Atlantic (TNA) sea-surface temperatures (cold TNA brings about high precipitation on decadal time scales), as well as an unusual occurrence of two consecutive El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) years, 1940–41 and 1941–42, which also produce dry conditions in the Altiplano.

  2. 2.

    The decline in parenchyma ubiquity during the LFII and TF periods may be the result of a smaller sample size and the fact that several samples were from contexts with very low overall densities of plant remains. When considering the LF periods as a whole (see Bruno 2014) the trend seems to be towards increased tuber presence.

  3. 3.

    In addition, many community members regularly move to the city of La Paz and engage in wage labor as fishing has been greatly impacted by over-harvesting and pollution in recent decades.

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Acknowledgements

We thank all those that have contributed to our projects over the years, and the reviewers whose critical feedback helped to improve this article.

Funding

TAP excavations and analyses were funded by NSF (BCS 0631282, BCS 0321720, BCS 1920904), Tinker Travel Grants, and the Stahl Foundation grants from the University of California, Berkeley through CAH. Archaeobotanical and ethnographic work were supported by NSF (DIG 0321720), Wenner Gren (7073), Fulbright, and Dickinson College Research & Development and Center for Sustainability Education grants to MCB. Washington University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences provided additional support to MCB and JMC for analysis. Coring and the diatom study was funded by financial assistance from an NSF IGERT grant to SCF and colleagues and an associated traineeship to DMW; by a National Geographic Society grant (9299–13) to CAH, MCB, and SCF; and NSF grants EAR-1251678 and EAR-1338694 to SCF, PAB, and colleagues.

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Correspondence to Maria C. Bruno.

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All research was conducted with permission from the respective agencies that govern scientific research in Bolivia. Bruno’s ethnographic research was conducted with IRB approval from Washington University in St. Louis, permission from local communities, and included informed consent. Research carried out with permission of the Bolivian Ministry of Cultures and participating communities on the Taraco Peninsula.

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Bruno, M.C., Capriles, J.M., Hastorf, C.A. et al. The Rise and Fall of Wiñaymarka: Rethinking Cultural and Environmental Interactions in the Southern Basin of Lake Titicaca. Hum Ecol 49, 131–145 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10745-021-00222-3

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Keywords

  • Lake Titicaca
  • Human-environmental interactions
  • Lake-level change
  • Subsistence diversification
  • Environmental archaeology
  • Bolivia
  • Peru