Andean civilization of the Argentine Northwestern region

Archeology in the NorthWest of Argentina

The archaeological sites of the Argentine Northwestern region are packed with well-organized cultures.

Nomad hunters-harvesters

About 100,000 years ago, the Argentine Northwestern region was populated by groups of nomad hunters-harvesters that belonged to a very broad Andean civilization. Knowing perfectly well their territory, the fauna, the flora and the use they could make of them, they moved around depending on the season and the available resources from the low hot lands of Chaco to the Pacific coast. They started to tame the llama 4,000 years ago to use it as a means of transportation, for their wool, fur and meat.

Argentine Northwest landscape

About 3,000 years ago, they started to be sedentary and to grow corn, potatoes, quinoa, and to use a new technology: pottery. The village was built around a single family and paid tribute to its huanca: the founder predecessor represented by a stone sculpture with antropomorph or zoomorph figure and set up in the middle of the fields or at the entrance of the village. To establish communication with the world of their sacred beings, these populations used hallucinogenic plants. These communities regrouped in villages between -500 and 700 were part of the Tafi culture (Tucumán) that built great menhirs, of the Condorhuasi culture (Catamarca), of the Ciénaga culture (Catamarca), of the Aguada culture (Catamarca, La Rioja)…

The organization of the Pucará society

In the first century, the Southern Andean communities went through deep changes: a social and political system was settled down, on that occasion non-egalitarian relationships were created, they had lineage that exercised the power and enjoyed privileges. That nobility or leadership had a curaca at the top, considered a descendent of the predecessor God who also imposed a religion based on the worship to sun. The Diaguitas, for example, imposed their organization as from the 9th century in the regions of Salta, Tucumán, Catamarca and San Juan.

Ruins of the Pucará de Tilcara

They built pucarás, fortresses strategically located on a hill or plateau, from where the centralized control of the territory was exercised. The elite and the craftsmen lived in the pucará while the farmers settled down at their bottom, near the fields and the yards that protected the groups of llamas, whose legacy from an Omaguaca culture could still be seen in Tilcara. The archaeologists also know that in Tilcara there were production workshops specialized in metallurgy, pottery and stone-cutting. This craftsmanship, at the height of its development in those times, is very important. The stone masks and pottery urns were essential for the funerary rituals, for example, it was a very rich culture.

Upon the arrival of the Incas in the 15th century, they presented resistance, as many years later they would confront the Spanish conquerors, specially the inhabitants of Quilmes.

The Inca Empire

In 1480, the Inca Empire or Tawantinsuyu (“the four parts of the world”) imposed their domination over the Argentine Northeastern region under the kingdom of Túpac Yupanqui. The Inca Empire, perfectly organized, that stretched over 5,000 km and had more than 12 million inhabitants, imposed deep changes: the submissiveness of the conquered towns, the translocation of the “colonists” from different ethnic groups, the quechua promotion, a different culture and rites, and the use of work force and the abilities of the Diaguitas, specially in the mines and metallurgy. They built roads (the Inca Path), sanctuaries, new pucarás and tombos, the guard positions for the active commerce.

In 1999 they discovered mummies of three Inca children in the volcan Llullaillaco (6,739 m). They are kept in the Archaeology Museum of the high mountains in Salta.

Archaeological sites and museums

Pucará de Tilcara ruins (Jujuy) are visited and some of the objects found in the excavations are shown in the town archaeological museum.
Quilmes ruins (Tucumán), south of Cafayate, are also visited. Now refurbished, Quilmas is one of the most important Argentine archaeological sites.
– The High Mountain Archaeological Museum (Salta) is devoted to Inca mummies of Llullaillaco.
Ambrosetti Ethnographic Museum, in Buenos Aires, has a beautiful collection originated in the roughness carried out especially in the Northeastern region and Patagonia.
La Plata Natural Science Museum exhibits a rich section devoted to archaeology and anthropology.