Geospatial Analysis of Archaeobotanical Remains from Kala Uyuni, Taraco Peninsula, Bolivia

surfscreechingSoftware and s/w Development

Dec 11, 2013 (4 years and 7 months ago)


Archaeology of the Lake
Titicaca Basin

The Lake Titicaca basin was an important center of
cultural development in the Andes. Many have been
drawn to this region because of the presence of the
first Andean state of Tiwanaku, approximately AD 500
1150. However, as of the last 15 years, a surge of
research has been conducted into the period
preceding Tiwanaku

the Formative Period, 1500 BC

AD 500. The Early and Middle Formative periods mark
the beginning of settled village life with agriculture, and
agriculture intensification possibly began in the Late
Formative. It is this Late Formative period, 250 BC

AD 500, that is the focus of this study.
The Late
Formative period is the least understood Pre
culture with a lack of excavated sites and difficulty
the ceramic
However, many of
these gaps are beginning to be filled by Professor
Maria Bruno and her colleagues through the Taraco
Archaeological Project with excavations on the Taraco
Peninsula, Bolivia.

Taraco Peninsula, Bolivia

The Taraco Peninsula is a low
lying mountain range that extends
into Lake Wiñyamarka, the southern branch of Lake Titicaca.
This region experienced dramatic demographic and economic
changes in the Middle and Late Formative Periods as
populations grew and complex societies emerged. One of the
larger sites on the peninsula is Kala Uyuni, which resides in the
modern day community of Coa Kkollu. It is at this site where
Professor Maria Bruno conducted her dissertation research that
provides both the background and data for this project.

Goals and Methods

The goal of this analysis is to provide a visual representation and organized
database of the archaeobotanical remains that were gathered and analyzed from
Kala Uyuni. Plant remains are small and there are many post
processes such as plowing and bioturbation that can disturb and displace them.
Using GIS to visualize their distribution, I test the hypothesis that there is no
significant spatial patterning in the archaeobotanical remains and that their
distribution is due to post
depositional disturbances not human behavior. First, I
plotted the provenience of each Flotation Sample and then related them with the
botanical data for each sample. I then analyzed the distribution of three food
plants that Professor Bruno outlined as key to the site: quinoa (
tuber fragments known as

and three species of cactus:
Echinocactus, Maihuenoposis cf. boliviana,

Each of these types is
displayed on a grid provided by Professor Bruno and symbolized with a
graduated cylinder based on the density of the species in a certain sample. This
density, either seeds per liter or grams per liter, allows the researcher to visualize
possible significant areas of plant use.

Using the analysis shown, I can conclude that there is clear evidence of patterned plant
activity at the site of Kala Uyuni. By analyzing each taxa of plants, I can see that certain
species with high densities tend to cluster in particular areas on the site. It is also interesting
to note that certain buildings lack evidence of these food plant remains. Thus, there seems
to be a division of activities at this site. My assumption is that many of these plants were

Features of Kala Uyuni

The site of Kala Uyuni is an example of a multi
polity dating back to the Late Formative Period. However,
there are areas of this site that date farther back in time to
both the Early and Middle Formative. The eastern side of the
site features three structures and a unique yellowish, clay
soil. These structures or Architectural Subdivisions (ASD)
are labeled on each map. ASD
5 is slightly younger (AD
400) than the others and is associated with cooking
vessels. On the other hand, ASD
2 is slightly older (AD 100
250) and is associated with painted, ceramics instead of
cooking vessels. This could represent a division of activities.
The western edge of the site was a midden before later
Tiwanaku occupants placed burials here. Flotation samples
were taken in the specific contexts across the site.

Three distinct species of cactus are
found throughout the site:
Echinocactus, Maihuenoposis cf.

. Looking at
the distribution based on density
(seeds/L), it’s clear that two distinct
areas may have been used to
process these food plants: ASD
and ASD
4. However, samples are
absent in ASD
2. This correlates
well with the fact ASD
5 may have
been used to prepare food based
on the cooking ceramics associated
with the structure.

The most prominent plant taxa found
at the site of Kala Uyuni is
Chenopodium quinoa
. It was most
certainly cultivated for consumption,
but the abundant seeds it produces
could have also been fed to animals,
thrown out, or burned. Therefore,
one must be careful when predicting
its use. However, as with the cactus,
it is highly concentrated in ASD
and ASD
4 and has minimal
appearance in ASD
2. Again, it
seems there is a possible spatial
division of food
related activities
such as preparation, disposal, and

Parenchyma are possible
fragments of tubers such as
potatoes and
. Much of this
may have been disposed of or
spilled and thus would be found
in a midden or garbage pit. These
fragments are similar to the other
taxa because of their presence in
5 and around ASD
However, it is interesting to note
it’s greater density in the midden,
which could have occurred as the
plant was disposed of after

Conclusion and Final Remarks

The plant remains analyzed are all carbonized because this is the only way organic material would preserve in an environment
constantly changes between wet and dry. These remains would have been burned during some activity such as fuel for ceramic fi
or even while cooking. Because these samples are near buildings, we believe they are related to food practices or other daily

activities. This analysis shows that there is clear patterning in the plant remains, thus falsifying my hypothesis that post
processes disturbed these remains. There seems to be more food preparation and disposal at ASD
5 and ASD
4 but not in ASD
The pottery strengthens the argument for this division. ASD
2 might have been an area where food was eaten based on the differen
ceramic presence at this structure. Therefore, I argue that the distribution of plant remains at Kala Uyuni shows a spatial d
between food preparation and consumption and other daily activities. A word of caution however, the small sample size could l

possible outliers in the data and a lack of coverage of the area. To combat this new trenches were opened at this site at a l
r date
but this data is not included in my analysis.


Chenopodium quinoa


Lake Wiñyamarka



Taraco Peninsula

Map 1. Courtesy of Professor Maria Bruno

Map 2. Landsat Imagery

Map 3. Topographic map of the sites on the

Peninsula. Kala Uyuni is highlighted.

Courtesy of Professor Maria

Map 4.

Map 5.

Image 1. Cactus seeds. Courtesy of Professor Maria Bruno

Map 6.

Image 2. Quinoa seeds. Courtesy of Professor Maria Bruno

Map 7.

Image 3.

fragment. Courtesy of Professor Maria Bruno.

Geospatial Analysis of Archaeobotanical Remains from Kala Uyuni, Taraco Peninsula, Bolivia

Christopher Wolfe

Sources: Bruno
, Maria C.
. Diss. Washington University St. Louis, 2008. Print

Data Sources: Professor Maria
and Eduardo
Machicado Murillo

Special thanks to
Jim Ciarrocca and
Professor Maria Bruno for all their help and
guidance throughout this entire process.

Grid in UTM