Friday, November 30, 2012

Another book written on a large scale

Debt is another book that takes aim at a very large topic: the economic history of the world over the past several thousand years. David Graeber's book has been reviewed in many places, including here, here and here, as well as here. I know that I am many years behind on blogging and social media, but I do find it fascinating to read academic debates online. I think that it's an excellent and thought provoking book, and for my part I will say that I have been studying and thinking about the Conquest of Mexico for a long time, but had never seriously considered the idea that Cortez had big debts, and that this motivation might be important to the history of the New World.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

New book about almost everything

The Creation of Inequality is the new book from Kent Flannery and Joyce Marcus, archaeologists at the University of Michigan, and well-known in the field both for their research and for their engaging writing style. The book has been reviewed here, here and here, and it will surely get more attention, because of the authors and the publisher, but also because the book engages questions about the origins of contemporary society in the archaeological past, but also taking archaeological interpretations of the past and using them to re-imagine society today. It's the kind of archaeological book that should get attention outside of the narrow field of archaeology.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Traveling priests and big parties

Here is another revealing quote from a Spanish priest in Mojos, this time directly from a letter written by Zapata, describing how the missionaries interacted with Mojeños:

Habiendo quitado las borracheras de estos indios, que la hacián por paga de los que les ayudaban á carpir sus chacras y haces sus casas, se han conmutado en darles de comer; y así viene el indio á avisar al Padre que le han carpido su chacra ó hecho su casa sus parientes, y se les da medio novillo ó más para que festeje á los suyos y les dé de comer y no haíga borrachera. Y esto lo tengo yo notablemente observado.... pues, fuera de pecado común, hacían otros de vengarse los sentimientos en las borracheras, y había muchas muertes entre ellos; pero esto hace mucho tiempo que no se usa, y ellos han conocideo que es mejor comer á costa agena que no dar beber á la suya, y á nosotros nos está más á cuento de esa suerte y evitar tanto pecado junto. (Zapata 1906:27-28*)

Having kept these Indians from their drunken parties, which were payments to those who helped them clear their fields and build their houses, I have changed them by giving them food to eat. And thus, the Indian comes to tell the priest that his relatives have helped him clear his field or build his house, and the priest gives him half of a young bull or more so that he may celebrate with his relatives, and feed them, and not have a drunken party. I have observed this kind of party.... Outside of the ordinary sin, they have committed other sins in order to take their revenge at these drunken parties, and there are many deaths among them. This hasn't happened in a long time, and they have learned that it is better to eat at another's expense, than to drink at one's own. This is lucky for us, to avoid so many sins at once (translation by the author).

Although we don't have a lot of ethnohistoric evidence, what we do have does yield some insight about how Mojeños organized themselves for agricultural labor.

* Zapata, A. 1906 [1693] Carta del Padre Agustín Zapata al Padre Joseph Buendía, en la que da noticias del Paititi. In Juicio de límites entre el Perú y Bolivia, edited by V. M. Maurtua, pp. 24-28. Imprenta de Henrich y Comp., Barcelona.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Excavating a fish

It's not some kind of Lovecraft-inspired horror, although it was dug up from out of the ground. It is a buchere, or armored catfish, which turned up in excavations in 2011. We actually found two of the fish in one of our excavations, and another one scampering along in the woods. Buchere survive the dry season in Mojos by looking for mud puddles, and they can "walk" on their fins to find another damp spot. Because we were excavating in the ring ditch at Estancita Island, the location was just right for a buchere to spend the winter. Even a small difference in elevation changes the drainage pattern, and therefore the habits of plants and animals.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Clark Erickson's Publications

Clark Erickson's list of publications is a chronicle of more than three decades of research in South America, much of it in the Llanos de Mojos. Full disclosure: he was my PhD advisor at the University of Pennsylvania, and continues to have a tremendous influence on how I research, write and teach. He has consistently advocated the position that in order to understand people who live in the Amazon, that anthropologists have to be directly and persistently engaged with them. From that long list of publications, I would single out this one on the bottom-up perspective, and this one reviewing landscapes in Mojos.

Update: I was a little embarrassed that I had not posted about Clark until now, but then I figure out that linked to his homepage in a previous post. So now I am a little embarrassed for forgetting. I will try to figure out how to get the search function to work better on this blog.

Monday, November 19, 2012

The US and the Amazon compared

This map shows the Amazon River system in comparison with the continental United States. The area drained by the Amazonian rivers is almost exactly the same, about 7,000,000 square kilometers. The rivers highlighted in red are the ones that drain eastern Bolivia: the Beni, the Mamoré and the Guaporé/Itenez, which then are a large part of the Madeira River system, which then links to the Amazon itself. All by itself, the Madeira River moves more water than the Mississippi.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Mission Culture

David Block's Mission Culture on the Upper Amazon is the definitive account of Mission history in Mojos. The book was published in 1994 by the University of Nebraska Press, which makes it hard to find in print. On Barnes and Noble they have copies, starting at $224.48. Fortunately, the book is also available here on the Cornell eCommons, which certainly reflects well on Cornell University and their library. You can download the entire book in PDF format.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Movima Linguistics and Katharina Haude

Katharina Haude is a linguist associated with the Documentation of Endangered Languages project from Germany. She is part of a new generation of linguistic scholars who are describing and analyzing the array of mutually unintelligible languages of eastern Bolivia and Southwestern Brazil. Among other specialties, she has written the definitive account of the Movima language. The area made up of Mojos and the part of Brazil just to the northeast, across the Itenez or Guaporé River, is unsurpassed in language diversity. Only the interior of New Guinea has the same number of distinct languages in a small area. Haude and others are conducting excellent research, and the first linguistic research of any kind in the area in decades.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Floodwater data

Here is an image of flooding in eastern Bolivia from the Dartmouth Flood Observatory, which is under the direction of Dr. G. Robert Brakenridge, [that's a pdf of his Curriculum Vitae] at the University of Colorado. The Observatory uses satellite imagery to automatically search for and document anomalous surface water across the entire earth, on a daily basis. A wide range of data products are available for free from the site, including maps of individual flood events from around the world, and records from measuring stations along rivers, including the Amazon. GIS has really brought a huge amount of data within reach of researchers in many fields, because GIS software can easily be run on a laptop computer, and so much more data is now available. More precise information on flooding is important to understanding how raised field farmers in Mojos lived with these annual cycles.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Tropical barn

This photo was taken by Jaime Bocchietti at the Monterey ranch, a few kilometers north of Santa Ana. The ranch is located on a triangular piece of high ground sticking out into the Quinato Swamp, a larger permanent wetland that was created by a river many thousands of years ago, before the river changed course and moved on. The horses (or perhaps more properly ponies) behind me are taking a break after carrying the visiting archaeologists for about a half-hour. Under the thatched roof is a small room for storing saddles, bridles and other horsey things. The open space alongside has several inviting hammocks. For those who are interested in horses and styles of riding, I have always been told that these are saddled in the Spanish style. with a belt around the girth of the horse, on top of the saddle. Cowboys can attach lassos and ropes to that metal loop on the side of horse, in order to pull and move cows. In the English style, the horn of the saddle is the point at which the lasso or the rope is attached.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Words from 1695

…y habiendo entrado en un pueblo muy grande, puesto en forma, con plaza y calles, halló á toda la gente de él junto á la puerta de un templo dedicado al demonio, á quien actualmente estaban ofreciendo sacrificios, puestos sus dioses todos en la puerta del templo, vestidos muy curiosamente de plumas, con unas mantas vistosas, todas labradas….y delante de ellos muchos cuartos de carne de ciervos, venados, conejos y avestruces puestos en sus palanganas, con una hoguera de fuego el medio, que continuamente arden de dia y de noche, y todo el pueblo alrededor del sacrificio. (Eguiluz and Torres S. 1884:35-36)
…and entering a large, well-formed town, with a plaza and streets, he discovered all of the people together at the door of a temple dedicated to the Devil, to whom they were offering sacrifices, placing all of their gods in the doorway of the temple, curiously dressed with feathers, with colorful garments, entirely worked….Ahead of these were many quarters of meat from deer, brocket deer, rabbit and rhea, placed in their platters,  with a bonfire in the middle, which burns continually, day and night, and all of the people were gathered around the sacrifice [my translation, from my 1999 dissertation at the University of Pennsylvania].

This quote is from one of the early Jesuit accounts of travels in Mojos. In this particular case, the priest (a man named Zapata) traveled along the Mamoré and Iruyañez Rivers, to the north of Santa Ana. Interpreting historical records like this is an important part of Amazonian archaeology, and Amazonian studies in general.

* Eguiluz, D. and E. Torres S. 1884 [1695] Historia de la misión de Mojos en la República de Bolivia. Imprenta del Universo de C. Prince, Lima.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Google Maps Update

View Larger Map

Google Maps, which is an inside-the-browser way to access satellite imagery and other geographic data, now has terrain data build into their maps. You do have to select for that option (in the upper right corner of the map), and when you look in the Bolivian Amazon there is not a lot to look at, but there are some interesting comparisons that you can make. In this map you can see the town of Santa Ana del Yacuma, and if you grab and drag, you can move to the north and "travel" along the Yacuma River. The relief in eastern Bolivia is very slight, but the differences in elevation make a big difference in hydrology.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Heiko Prümers, Deutsches Archäologisches Institut

After posting about Umberto Lombardo's blog yesterday, I realize that there are many researchers and websites that need to be mentioned. Heiko Prümers, of the Deutsches Archäologisches Institut, has conducted excavations in Eastern Bolivia for many years, in some of the large mounds near Trinidad, and also in some of the large ring ditches in northeastern Mojos. His projects are well published, in great detail with very high production values. This photograph is taken from this page, and the caption reads: Abb. 6. Grabungsflächen am Fundort "Granja del Padre" (BV-2), or Surface excavations at the "Granja del Padre" site (BV-2) [copyright DAI]

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Up and Down in Moxos

Umberto Lombardo is a postdoc at the Institute of Geography - Bern University, and he has a fantastic blog called Up and Down in Moxos, where he posts about the archaeology of Moxos, providing a lot of detail on the geographic background to that archaeological record. The blog has links to a wide variety of scientific journals and papers, as well as other blogs relevant to Amazonian environments. One of the themes that I am in complete agreement with is that we need more communication and collaboration between scholars who are trained in different disciplines, like geographers, archaeologists and anthropologists.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Excavating at Estancita

Thanks to Jorge Garcia, who took this photograph while working in Bolivia this summer, we have an image of excavations at Estancita Island, just north of the Yacuma River near Santa Ana del Yacuma. Two students from the University of Central Florida joined two students from the University of San Andres in La Paz (including Mary Luz Choque Azapa, in the far left corner of the excavation. You can also see two archaeological technicians (Jose Pedro Rossell Rivero and Juan Pablo Avaroa Rossell) who have worked with us for two years. The excavation was under the woods, about 100 meters outside of a circular ring ditch. The excavation contained a layer of occupation debris and established that people were living here on a permanent basis, perhaps 1500 years ago, or even longer.

Friday, November 2, 2012

It seems unlikely

A new movie set in the Peruvian Amazon is apparently in "pre-production," according to the online movie database IMDB. If stories like this one describe how the producers of the movie will interact with people living in a small town in the Peruvian Amazon, it seems unlikely that the movie is going to present anything other than a reflection of previously held ideas about people in the Amazon, rather than anything having to do with people in the Amazon. But what do you think?

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Franz Keller Leuzinger

 Without loss of time, then, one of them, having carefully fashioned a strong loop of raw hide at the end of a long pole, and having dexterously slipped off his bast shirt, creeps slowly through the shallow water, pole and sling in hand, as near as possible to the alligator, which looks on at these preparations with perfect apathy, only now and then betraying a sign of life by a lazy movement of of its powerful tail. But it does not take its eyes off the Indian as he crawls nearer and nearer. The fatal sling is at arm's length from its muzzle, and yet it does not see it. As if under the influence of witchcraft, it continues to stare with its large protruding eyes at the bold hunter, who in the next moment has thrown the loop over its head, and suddenly drawn it to with a strong pull. The other Indians, who the while have been cowering motionless on shore, now rush into the water to the help of their companion, and four or five of them land the ugly creature that with all its might struggles to get back into the water, lashing the sand with its tail and showing its long teeth; but a few vigorous blows with an axe on the tail and skull soon render it tame enough....I never thought of sending a rifle-bullet through the thick skull of one, except on one occasion, when I was afraid that one of our Canichanas was about to make too close an acquaintance with the hard, jagged tail of an extraordinarily strong monster, which measured full 16 1/2 feet.

This quote is from page 90 of "Amazon and Madeira Rivers: Sketches and Descriptions from the Note-Book of an Explorer" by Franz Keller Leuzinger, published in 1875, and describes hunting caimans on the Madeira River, into which the rivers of the Llanos de Mojos flow. The book was once almost impossible to find, but was first reprinted by the Cornell University Library Digital Collections, and then posted as an open access document. It's one of the best 19th century accounts of the upper Madeira river, including Mojos, and it is illustrated with astounding woodcuts.