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Feeding the Inca Empire November 11th, 2018 by

Vea la versión en español a continuación

The Inca Empire depended on a road system, called the Qhapaq Ñan, that linked its four regions from Ecuador to Chile, moving armies, laborers and food. Like beads on a necklace, the Qhapaq Ñan was studded with grain silos, called qollqas, where food could be stored.

The largest set of these qollqas is at Cotapachi, near Cochabamba in Bolivia, 1000 km from the ancient Inca capital of Cusco, Peru. Between 1450 AD and 1500 AD, the Inca Empire built 2500 granaries at Cotapachi, on a dry ridge overlooking a small lake in the Cochabamba Valley. According to David Pereira, archaeologist and expert on the qollqas, this site was part of a vast complex, with about 1500 more qollqas on other, nearby hilltops.

Each qollqa is about 2.5 meters in diameter at its stone base and could hold perhaps 4 tons of maize. They were originally about 3 meters tall, with gently tapered cylindrical walls woven from the stems of the ch’illka plant and plastered with mud and roofed with straw of the needle grass.

In 2007, 27 of the qollqas of Cotapachi were reconstructed, so to speak. They were designed by the architect Jorge Obando Stemberg and built by soldiers from the nearby Tumusla Regiment of the Bolivian Army.  These replicas are made from adobe (mud) bricks, but they are kind of graceful in the afternoon sunlight, with the backdrop of the mountains.

Nothing is left of the other silos, except for rows and rows of stone bases.

From Cusco, the Inca could command the granary silos to be filled with maize grown in the green, irrigated fields of Cochabamba. The grain was carried to the garrison that guarded the southeast frontier at Inka Llajta, or it was sent to Cusco via the administrative settlement of Paria, in Oruro, Bolivia. A royal army passing through Cochabamba could provision its soldiers directly with the grain stored in the silos.

The grain was transported on llamas, which thrive on native Andean vegetation, but their slender backs can only carry a light pack of some 25 kg. You would need 160 llamas to haul the grain from one silo. It must have been a marvelous sight when thousands of pack llamas flowed like a river, up the stone slope to Inka Raqay, their first stop on the way to Cusco.

Like the Inka, all ancient states were built on the food and labor wrested from farmers. Some of the arrangements for commandeering and transporting that grain were as impressive as the cities they fed. The bases of grain silos may be humbler than ruined palaces, but it’s important to recognize that civilization is based on agriculture, and that farming does leave its mark on the archaeological record.

Notes

Thanks to David Pereira for sharing his insights about the Inca grain silos at Cotapachi.

The “-s” ending from Spanish is used today for Quechua plurals. In classical Quechua the qollqas would have been called “qollqakuna”.

The Inca, or Inka, was the supreme ruler of a state that was called “Tawantinsuyu,” meaning “all four quarters”.

There were actually more qollqas in the Mantaro Valley, in Peru, than in the Cochabamba Valley, but the silos in Mantaro were spread out over several sites.

Needle grass includes Stipa ichu and related species. It is called paja brava in Spanish, and ichhu in Quechua.

Ch’illka is Baccharis salicifolia.

Further reading

Eeckhout, Peter 2012 “Inca Storage and Accounting Facilities at Pachacamac.” Andean Past 10(1):12.

Gyarmati, János and Carola Condarco Castellón. Circa 2012 “Las ocupaciones prehispánicas tardías y el centro administrativo inkaico en la Cuenca de Paria, Altiplano de Oruro.”

Earlier blog stories

Inka Raqay, up to the underworld

Making new ruins

The tyrant of the Andes

Related videos

The grain kept at Cotapachi may have been stored for a while, or sent soon after harvest to Cusco. Weevils, moulds and other post-harvest problems have always been a challenge, and still are. For videos on handling the maize harvest on a small farm see:

Managing aflatoxins in maize during drying and storage

Managing aflatoxins in maize before and during harvest

Storing and managing maize in a warehouse

Good storing and conserving maize grain

Good shelling, sorting and drying of maize

Harvesting maize in a good way

ALIMENTANDO AL IMPERIO INCAICO

El Imperio Incaico dependía de un sistema de caminos, llamado el Qhapaq Ñan, que unía sus cuatro regiones desde Ecuador hasta Chile, moviendo ejércitos, trabajadores y alimentos. Como cuentas en un collar, el Qhapaq Ñan estaba tachonado de silos de grano, llamados qollqas, donde se podían almacenar los alimentos.

El conjunto más grande de estas qollqas está en Cotapachi, cerca de Cochabamba en Bolivia, a 1000 km de la antigua capital incaica de Cusco, Perú. Entre 1450 y 1500 AD, el Imperio Incaico construyó 2.500 graneros en Cotapachi, en una cresta seca con vista a un pequeño lago en el Valle de Cochabamba. Según David Pereira, arqueólogo y experto en las qollqas, este sitio formaba parte de un vasto complejo, con cerca de 1500 qollqas más en las otras cimas cercanas.

Cada qollqa medía unos 2,5 metros de diámetro en su base de piedra y podría almacenar unas 4 toneladas de maíz. Originalmente tenían unos 3 metros de altura, con paredes cilíndricas suavemente cónicas tejidas a partir de los tallos de la planta ch’illka y estucados con barro y techadas con paja brava.

En el 2007, 27 de los qollqas de Cotapachi fueron reconstruidos. Fueron diseñados por el arquitecto Jorge Obando Stemberg y construidos por soldados del cercano Regimiento de Tumusla del Ejército Boliviano.  Estas réplicas están hechas de adobes, pero son elegantes a la luz de la tarde, con el fondo de la cordillera.

No queda nada de los otros silos, excepto filas y filas de bases de piedra.

Desde Cusco, los incas podían ordenar que los silos se llenaran de maíz cultivado en los verdes campos irrigados de Cochabamba. El grano fue llevado a la guarnición que vigilaba la frontera sureste en Inka Llajta, o fue enviado a Cusco a través del asentamiento administrativo de Paria, en Oruro, Bolivia. Un ejército real que pasaba por Cochabamba podía abastecer directamente a sus soldados con el grano almacenado en los silos.

El grano fue transportado en llamas, que prosperan en la vegetación nativa andina, pero sus esbeltos lomos sólo pueden llevar una mochila ligera de unos 25 kg. Se necesitarían 160 llamas para llevar el grano de un silo. Habrá sido una vista todo un espectáculo ver a los miles de llamas cuando fluyeron como un río, por la ladera de piedra hasta Inka Raqay, su primera parada en el camino a Cusco.

Al igual que el Inka, todos los estados antiguos fueron construidos sobre los alimentos y la mano de obra arrebatada a los agricultores. Algunos de los arreglos para requisar y transportar ese grano eran tan impresionantes como las ciudades a las que alimentaban. Las bases de los silos de granos pueden ser más humildes que los palacios en ruinas, pero es importante reconocer que la civilización se basa en la agricultura, y que la agricultura deja su huella en el registro arqueológico.

Notes

Gracias David Pereira por compartir sus ideas sobre las qollqas de Cotapachi.

El sufijo “-s” del español se usa hoy en día para plurales en quechua. En el quechua clásico las qollqas se habrán llamado “qollqakuna”.

El Inca, o Inka, era el gobernante supremo de un estado que se llamaba “Tawantinsuyu”, que significa “los cuatro cuartos”.

Hay más qollqas en el Valle de Mantaro, en el Perú, que en el Valle de Cochabamba Valley, pero los silos en Mantaro estaban dispersos en varios sitios.

La paja brava incluye Stipa ichu y especies relacionadas. Se llama ichhu en quechua y needle grass en inglés.

Ch’illka es Baccharis salicifolia.

Lectura

Eeckhout, Peter 2012 “Inca Storage and Accounting Facilities at Pachacamac.” Andean Past 10(1):12.

Gyarmati, János y Carola Condarco Castellón. Circa 2012 “Las ocupaciones prehispánicas tardías y el centro administrativo inkaico en la Cuenca de Paria, Altiplano de Oruro.”

Earlier blog stories

Inka Raqay, up to the underworld

Making new ruins

The tyrant of the Andes

Related videos

El grano guardado en Cotapachi pudo haber sido almacenado por un tiempo, o enviado a Cusco poco después de la cosecha. Los gorgojos, mohos y otros problemas de pos-cosecha siempre han sido un desafío, y lo siguen siendo. Para ver videos sobre el manejo de la cosecha de maíz en una pequeña granja, vea:

Manejo de aflatoxinas en maíz durante el secado y almacenamiento

Manejo de aflatoxinas en el maíz antes y durante la cosecha

Almacenar y manejar el maíz en bodega

Almacenando bien el maíz

Desgranando, seleccionando y secando bien el maíz

Cosechando el maíz bien

Dick’s Ice Box September 2nd, 2018 by

In 2005, a few years before my Mom died, she took some of her grown children and grandchildren to Dewey, Utah, a ghost town on the Colorado River, to show us one of the strangest structures I’ve ever seen. On a blistering day in July we walked through the sage brush and the red sand to a canyon wall. Mom led us through a neat little door through the cliff-face into a darkened room, surprisingly cooler than the outside and big enough for a dozen people to crowd in.

Mom’s grandfather, Richard Dallin “Dick” Westwood had carved this room from solid stone. Dick’s children called the place ‘Dad’s Ice Box.” Dick would stack winter ice from the Colorado River into his ice box to keep food cold all through the summer. “They could even keep butter in here,” Mom added proudly. My great-grandfather lived from 1863 to 1929; there was no electricity in Dewey and household refrigerators were rare before 1927.

Off and on between 1901 and 1916 Dick ran the ferry at Dewey, where the wagon road from Moab, Utah to Grand Junction, Colorado crossed the Colorado River. The trip was a hundred miles (160 km), so travelers often spent the night at Dewey, where my great-grandmother Martha had a little boarding house and diner. The family had a small farm and some cattle that provided meat and other provisions. The ice box filled with food was important for Martha’s business.

That day in 2005, my Mom told us that Dick carved the ice box with dynamite. The rectangular doorway and the spacious room it led into were clearly the work of a craftsman. Carving stone with dynamite is a dangerous business, a good way to lose life or limb, and I always wondered how Dick knew what he was doing.

This remained a mystery until this year, when my cousin, Richard “Rick” Westwood wrote a book about our great-grandfather. It finally helped me make sense of Dick’s Ice Box.

Dick held many professions, from sheriff to muleskinner to Shakespearean actor, but until I read Rick’s book I never realized that Dick was also a miner. From childhood I knew that Dick had staked a mine claim, which he named “The Silver Dick.” I was aware that my great-grandfather had a sense of humor, but until I read Rick’s book I didn’t know that the Silver Dick was a working silver mine. Discovered in August 1908, it may have been the only one in Southeastern Utah. Dick worked the mine until 1909 when he filled a box car with valuable ore, enough to make his fortune. Sadly, this never happened, because the shipment was stolen by railroad workers en route to buyers. But Dick’s mine enriched him with the skill of working sandstone with dynamite.

The Ice Box may have been partly inspired by the root cellar, a small structure dug into the ground, topped off with a timber roof. Many families in Utah stored their food in root cellars. During their early years in Dewey, Dick and Martha’s root cellar burned down. Martha would later tell my grandmother how devastating it was to lose all their stored food. Dick took the loss stoically, saying: “Oh we’ll get us another sack of flour and another bag o’ taters (potatoes) and we’ll be as good off as ever.” But losing the root cellar may have inspired Dick to think of a fire-proof place to store the household food. As luck would have it, Dick was well placed to get ice. Rick explains that in the early 1900s, the Colorado River used to freeze so hard in winter that Dick could drive his family over the river in a wagon drawn by a team of horses. The ferry was sited between two sharp bends in the river, near the modern-day Dewey Bridge. In the spring the ice would break with great force, and some big slabs would pile up on the bank, where they were relatively easy to collect.

In her history of ice, Elizabeth David observes the sunken ice houses made by Scandinavian farmers, but in the mid nineteenth to early twentieth century USA, ice houses were typically wooden barn-like structures, made and operated by professional ice mongers, not by smallholder farmers. Dick’s Ice Box is the only one I know of carved into a sandstone cliff.

The ice box was crucial for running a family business on a small, desert farm.

Farmers’ creativity is often stimulated by new ideas, as we often say in our weekly Agro-Insight blog. Those ideas can come from science or from a technology the farmer learned somewhere else, even by mining. Dick was flexible, tough and creative. He took misfortune in stride, and adapted, just like many of the farmers we still meet today.

Acknowledgement

I thank my cousin, Rick Westwood, for letting me read his book manuscript. Thanks also to Rick and to my brothers Brett and Scott Bentley for reading and commenting on an earlier version of this story. I gratefully acknowledge Eric Boa and Paul Van Mele who gave me thoughtful feedback on this story, as they always do.

Related blog story

The Ice Harvest

Further reading

Richard E. “Rick” Westwood is publishing his excellent biography, Sheriff Richard Dallin Westwood later in 2018.

See also:

Westwood, Richard E. 2010 Westwood Family History, Vol II. R. Westwood: Highland, Utah.

My great-grandmother, Martha Wilcox (1871 to 1962) wrote an autobiography, edited by her daughter, Grace Westwood Morse:

Autobiography of Martha Anna Wilcox Westwood Foy, privately printed in 1983.

And for the definitive story of ice boxes:

David, Elizabeth 1994 Harvest of the Cold Months: The Social History of Ice and Ices. London: Faber and Faber. 413 pp.

The enemies of innovation August 26th, 2018 by

Sometimes even rational people fight innovation, as we learn in this recent book by the late Calestous Juma, a Kenyan scholar who taught at Harvard and who enjoyed the rare distinction of being elected as a fellow of the Royal Society of London and a foreign associate of the US National Academy of Science.

To condense Prof. Juma’s nuanced and complex thesis, there are two good reasons to oppose innovation, and one surprising outcome.

First, early versions of an innovation are often expensive, unwieldy and simply not very good at getting the job done. Thomas Edison’s first electrical wiring relied on noisy generators, was a fire hazard, and accidentally electrocuted 17 New Yorkers to death in two years between 1887 and 1889. These problems were eventually ironed out, but some of the failings of an innovation are never fully addressed. When tractors began to replace horses in the USA in the 1920s, three decades after they were invented by John Froelich in 1892, critics complained that the tractors (and automobiles) were wasteful and that buying, fueling and repairing them would place a financial burden on farmers,

Second, an innovation is opposed by the social network that uses and supports the incumbent technology. Electric lights were competing with a well-entrenched and profitable natural gas industry. Farriers, veterinarians and harness makers relied on horses for steady business and income. Older workers with the skills and experience to use an existing technology may resist an alternative. The Luddites were not a bunch of maniacs who liked to break things; they were skilled weavers in the 19th century who correctly realized that mechanized looms would replace experienced workers with unskilled ones.

Fortunately, the dynamic tension between the old and the new can be as creative as the original invention, refining the timeworn technology or promoting innovative social structures.

For example, margarine was invented in France in 1869 and was being manufactured in the USA by the 1880s. At the time American dairy farmers were poorly organized, but led by the butter factories, they eventually formed the National Dairy Council. This powerful lobby group harassed margarine makers, leading to legislation in five US states which required margarine to be dyed an unappetizing pink. They also spread disinformation, reporting bogus studies that claimed that margarine stunted children’s growth, for example. But nineteenth century butter was not the choice food that we know today; it was often rancid and adulterated with chemicals. Competition with margarine forced butter manufacturers to make a better product. And in the ultimate compromise, some spreads now blend butter and margarine.

In the end margarine’s saving grace was not technical, but social. In the 1940s US margarine makers switched from imported coconut oil to American soybean and cottonseed oil, acquiring farmer allies that allowed them to fend off the big dairy interests and find a permanent place at the table.

In the end, the innovation may never completely defeat the incumbent technology, which may settle into a competitive niche of its own. The gas industry fought electricity with all the imagination it had, creating gas-powered versions of every electrical appliance invented. There was even a gas radio in the 1930s (it had the added advantage of giving off a little extra heat). Electricity never completely replaced natural gas, which still provides heat and energy, but the rivalry lives on in the competition between gas ovens and electric models.

There are some clear lessons here for agricultural scientists, who are often dismayed when farmers do not immediately adopt ideas derived from research. As we learn from the optimistic Prof. Juma: your invention may have potential in the long run, but in the short term it may still have bugs that need to be fixed. Innovations often seek to replace existing technologies that have proven advantages, and are familiar to users; the struggle between old and new can lead to creative solutions.  Specifically, researchers can use farmer field schools (FFS) or other experiences to learn about the farmers’ point of view and work together to adapt innovations to meet their needs and circumstances.

Further reading

Juma, Calestous 2016 Innovation and Its Enemies: Why People Resist New Technologies. Oxford University Press. 416 pp.

As the waters recede July 1st, 2018 by

Peasant farmers can be quick to seize an opportunity, and when the benefit is clearly high, farmers may skip the experimental stage and go straight to a new practice on a massive scale.

In the lower Gangetic Delta in southwest Bangladesh, people live just centimeters above sea level. Getting rid of excess water can make all the different between harvest and hunger.

In the 1960s, earthen embankments were built around certain large areas of land.

The newly dry land inside these dykes is called a polder. Successful farming in the polder depends on having large draining canals, snaking through the muddy land, to carry water to the river.

In 2000, the 10 km-long Amodkhali Canal silted up. So during the winter rainy season the water had nowhere to go. A vast area in the middle of Polder 2 became a seasonal lake. Villagers hung on, growing rice in the dry season. Many migrated for wage labour in the winter.

Then in May 2017, Blue Gold (a program implemented by the government of Bangladesh) began to re-excavate the Amodkhali Canal.  By July they had dug out 8.4 km. It was a big job. At 2.5 meters deep and 6 meters wide, thousands of cubic meters of mud had to be moved. Some was done by machinery and some by hand. Groups of women were organised into Labour Contracting Societies (LCS) to earn money doing the work.

Local people near the canal saw the work. Even those living far away heard about it, and when the rains came in July 2017, farmers could see with their own eyes that the rainwater was draining away.

Like a river, a drainage canal has a sort of watershed, called a catchment area. This canal drains a roughly tear-drop shaped area some four by six kilometres: a big place. The thousands of farmers in the area didn’t have to be begged or cajoled into planting rice: they just did it.

My colleagues and I met local farmer Nozrul Islam near the banks of the canal. He said that he was so happy with the canal. He has two hectares of land and when the water drained off, nobody told him to plant rice. He simply went to Khulna, a neighbouring district, and bought rice seed for all of his land. He hadn’t planted winter rice for over 16 years.

Nozrul’s experience was replicated all over the area. In the village of Koikhali, a group of women told us that they also planted winter (amon) rice last year.

There was no experimentation, no hesitation. People simply re-introduced a winter rice crop into their cropping system, which they had not grown for almost a generation. The total catchment area is 4326 ha. That first year they planted 2106 hectares of winter rice, and harvested 12,000 tons or rice. Much of this rice was sold on the national market.

Related blog

Robbing land from the sea

Related video

Floating vegetable gardens

Acknowledgement

The Amodkhali Canal was re-excavated by the Blue Gold Program in Bangladesh, supported by the Blue Gold Program, with funding from the Embassy of the Netherlands. I am indebted to Joynal Abedin, Shahadat Hossain, Md. Harun-ar-Rashid, Guy Jones, A. Salahuddin and many others for teaching me about polders on a recent trip to Bangladesh.

Feeding the ancient Andean state June 17th, 2018 by

Early states from Mesopotamia to Mesoamerica still inspire awe with their fine art and architecture. Yet the artists and soldiers who built the states needed to be fed; whatever their other accomplishments, early states were always based on agriculture. In a recent book, James Scott reminds us that early states usually collected their taxes as grain, staple crops grown on a large scale, such as maize, rice, and wheat, which are easy to store. Scott observes that there were no ancient states based on potatoes or other tuber crops. Yet he admits that the Inka were a partial exception. The Inka did have maize, but they depended largely on the potato which is bulky and perishable, making it difficult to collect and store.

This set me thinking. Inspired by Professor Scott’s excellent book, I’d like to explain how tuber crops, and the potato in particular, sustained the Inka state and provided taxes.

First, the Inka state (called Tawantinsuyu) was not an early state, but had co-opted the myths and king lists of a much earlier one, Tiwanaku, which managed an empire that straddled the Andes from the Pacific Coast to the warm valleys of the Amazon Basin. Tiwanaku began as a village (about 1580 BC), but was a state by 133 AD and an empire by 724, lasting until 1187 when it collapsed in a civil war and broke up into smaller chieftainships (señoríos) that were independent until they were later conquered by the Inka.

The capital city of Tiwanaku was built near Lake Titicaca, on the high plains of Bolivia, not far from the border of modern-day Peru. It once housed 100,000 residents and was centered on large stone buildings made of sandstone and andesite, a hard rock quarried in Peru and ferried across Lake Titicaca on ships woven from the reeds that grew in the shallow waters. Tiwanaku was created long before the first Inka, Pachacuti, organized Tawantinsuyu in Cusco starting in 1438. So the Inka’s Tawantinsuyu was a late state, patterned on the much earlier and long-lasting Empire of Tiwanaku.

But in the pre-Colombian Andes, states could collect taxes in potatoes because of an ingenious method of making them light-weight and non-perishable. The Inka and the people of Tiwanaku both knew how to freeze dry potatoes during the winter nights of the high Andes. This preserved potato is called chuño: there are two types, a grey one and a white one, called tunta, which is soaked in water during processing. Both types are as hard and dry as wood. With the water removed, the potato loses weight and can be stored for years. Potatoes were portable once they were transformed into chuño. The Inka taxed their subjects in chuño, as well as maize. Both of these foods were kept in royal storehouses. Chuño was simply soaked in water and boiled to make them edible.

The Inka Empire was large and complex, eventually spanning most of the Andes, from Ecuador to northern Argentina. Like Old World states, the Inka collected taxies in grain: maize in this case. But unlike other classic civilizations, the Inka and an earlier state, Tiwanaku were also largely sustained by a perishable tuber crop, thanks to ingenious recipes for preserving the potato as chuño.

The modern cities of Peru and Bolivia have kept few vestiges of the ancient states that preceded them. But you can still buy chuño in Andean markets and even at upscale supermarkets. The ancient states are gone. Their art works are now curiosities in museums, yet the crops the Inka grew and their imaginative methods of preserving and serving food are still very much alive.

Earlier blog stories

The bad old days

The tyrant of the Andes

Further reading

Finucane, Brian Clifton 2009 “Maize and Sociopolitical Complexity in the Ayacucho Valley, Peru.” Current Anthropology 50(4):533-545.

Haas, Jonathan & Winifred Creamer 2006 “Crucible of Andean Civilization: The Peruvian Coast from 3000 to 1800 BC.” Current Anthropology 47(5):745-775.

Horkheimer, Hans [1973] 2004 Alimentación y Obtención de Alimentos en el Perú Prehispánico. Lima: Instituto Nacional de Cultura. Segunda edición.

Montaño Durán, Patricia 2016 El Imperio de Tiwanaku. Tercera Edición. Cochabamba: Grupo Editorial Kipus. 249 pp.

Scott, James C. 2017 Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States. New Haven: Yale University Press.

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