Surveying the Titicaca Basin

So the past three weeks I have been surveying the Lake Titicaca basin for pukaras (fortified hilltop sites), chulpas (funerary burial towers),  slab-cist tombs, ceramics, lithics, and other ancient artifacts. We divide ourselves into two groups of about five (about three Peruvian workers in each group). We spread ourelves out and scan our designated survey area for any artifacts. The landscape where we´re surveying is nothing short of breathtaking (beautiful views of countryside, soaring mountains, and lakes). Whenever we discover a site, we determine the limits of the site using flags and then outline the site using a very handy Trimble GPS (which surprisingly very easy to use). After the site is defined,we perform systematic surface collection, which entails establishing points within the site that are 50 meters apart. At each point, a 8 meter diameter circle is measured out and flagged. Every ceramic sherd and lithic within this circle is then collected and bagged. The purpose of systematic surface collection is to determine when certain areas of the site were occupied (by analyzing the ceramic sherds and assessing their concentration within these areas, we can gain insight into who occupied that particular part of the site and when they occupied it). When we encounter a feature (such as a tomb) we register its coordinates within the GPS.  My research project will examine the spatial relationships between tomb locations, sites, and fortified walls in an effort to assess whether or not tombs functioned as land/boundary markers. I also hope this spatial data will inform me about the level of social stratification that was present in the area.

So far, we´ve found some pretty impressive artifacts and sites. Beautiful painted and incised pottery, an intact Late Intermediate Period vessel, arrowheads, slingstones, an ancient shovel, and an ancient anchor weight have been found on this survey project. We´ve found at least three pukaras, situated in highly defensive locations on mesas. When I was leading a survey crew on top of one of the mesas, our team discovered a sunken plaza that was encircled by slab-cist tombs (this site will definitely play a major part in my project). Although a couple of the tombs had been robbed, we were able to peer inside and take photos of the tomb interiors (the interior walls were made of stone). We´ve found a few arrowheads (one day I found 4 which was awesomeee). This past week we surveyed and registered a pukara situated on mesa (BEAUTIFUL SCENERY BTW). One of the farmers came up and told our team that there are a few cave tombs below the pukara, with only skulls, NO BODIES. Our team carefully meandered along the cliffside and  found 4 cave tombs situated in the cliffside of the pukara (one of which had rock art!!). In total, we found around eight skulls (one was placed in an adobe niche tomb) and a few other bones.

Even though survey is exhausting, it is extremely rewarding. After three weeks of intensive walking and climbing, I feel back in shape. We earn our meals at the end of the day I guess you can say haha. We stay in a nice house in a small town called Tiquillaca, which is about 40 minutes away from Puno. On the weekends we drive back to Puno and chill (I´ve taken two tours-Sillustani, a gorgeous chulpa site, and the Islas de Uros, the famous reed islands). Once again, this is the most epic trip that I have ever taken!


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