Landscape and Resettlement in Peru (16th-17th c.)


A review of Building Subjects: Landscapes of Forced Resettlement in the Zaña and Chamán Valleys, Peru, 16th and 17th Centuries C.E., by Nathaniel Parker VanValkenburgh.

During the 1570s, the fifth Viceroy of Spanish colonial Peru, Francisco Toledo, carried out sweeping reforms, including implementing a general census, a systematic labor tax, and one of the largest forcible resettlements in human history, known as the reducción program. The towns for the resettlements were to be identical and conform closely to an urban grid model that would include a parish church centered on a plaza and buildings for civic institutions – “all features that Toledo felt would be instruments of public order and good government,” as VanValkenburgh remarks in the opening pages of his dissertation (p. 4). Motivated by imperial hubris and an assemblage of ideologies set to transform countless lives, the Spanish imagined that Andean people living in reducción settlements would be instilled with policia humana and thus able to join the ranks of “human civilization.” Despite the massive scope of the reducción program, and recent historical research on the matter, it was sparsely documented and remains a poorly understood process, as questions remain concerning the extent and efficacy of the reducción program. Fortunately, as VanValkenburgh makes clear, the Zaña and Chamán valleys on the North Coast benefit from unique documents of the 16th century and the reducción program, not to mention the influential historical research of Susan Ramirez (“Chérrepe en 1572: Un Análisis de la Visita General del Virrey Francisco de Toledo,” Historia y Cultura 11 (1978): 79-121) along with many others, making the region ideal for the historical archaeology of the program of reducciones.

As the Spanish colonial program of reducciones intended to drastically change indigenous lives from the Pacific coast deserts to the highland mountains and beyond, it was very much played out in the world of things, and involved the convergence of material realities that now compose the archaeological record and provide insight into a range of experiences and processes that lay beyond the historical record. With the Peruvian North Coast’s dense archaeological record and long history of occupations, the program of reducciones serves as an important example to study Latin American history and elaborates upon major questions about colonial processes, power, and space that also continue to inform contemporary society. A steadfastly interdisciplinary research project, VanValkenburgh’s dissertation weaves through the archaeological and historical records with an anthropological perspective. The work begins with historical, archaeological, and environmental contexts and examples, setting the stage for a section on methods, and for the next two substantive chapters presenting original archaeological data and interpretations from the project.

In the opening chapter, VanValkenburgh recounts the case of Don Mateo Yalca, an indigenous principal who traveled to Lima to petition the forced resettlement of his community. Though the historical record falls silent on the outcome of this petition, VanValkenburgh looks to the archaeological record, and suspects that Don Mateo Yalca’s petition was not met with success. Illustrating the varied effects of the reforms, VanValkenburgh later mentions that despite the intentions to resettle the entire community, a fishing community stayed in the previous settlement to operate balsa rafts for fishing. Through attending to the historical record, VanValkenburgh demonstrates how individuals negotiated the developing Spanish colonial apparatus, then sets the stage for how these actors’ intentions diverged from and conformed to Spanish imperial ideals and policies. In contrast to and expanding upon William Hanks’s expansive work (Converting Words: Maya in the Age of the Cross. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010), VanValkenburgh argues that while discourse and language had an effect beyond everyday practices, “space was the critical modality through which reducción was expressed under Francisco de Toledo” (p. 7). Reducción also set to change the temporal landscape of the Andes, as “it explicitly sought to transform indigenous historicity, operating as a ‘technique of amnesia’ [citing Thomas A. Abercrombie, Pathways of Memory and Power: Ethnography and History among an Andean People. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1998, p. 240] that would distance Indians from their past” (p. 9).

In Chapter 2 (“Imperial Landscapes: Approaching Space and Power in the Archaeological Record”), VanValkenburgh gives a detailed discussion of his theoretical approaches for studying space and power, outlines key terms, and further provides a detailed genealogy of the varying theoretical perspectives from which he draws. In particular, he identifies three approaches to space: absolute, phenomenological and relational. He then situates and traces these perspectives throughout the academic anthropological and archaeological research of the 20th century along with their longstanding philosophical legacies, especially through examples of survey methods and settlement patterns [a major component of the dissertation research (Chapter 6)]. VanValkenburgh productively relies upon Adam T. Smith’s impressive review of politics, power, and space (The Political Landscapes. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003), and specifically highlights Marxist geographers’ attention to praxis and emphasis on how power and politics deeply inform our perceptions and experience of space and the material landscape (relational ontology of space). In recent years, as archaeologists have investigated “how power is constituted and reproduced in specific places and relationships” (p. 30), VanValkenburgh provides a useful section discussing forms of power, and ultimately distinguishes between instrumentalist and Foucauldian (heterogeneous and capillary form, composed of techniques, practices, and strategies) understandings of social power. He argues that both are necessary to fully describe the development of the reducción movement.

VanValkenburgh closes the chapter by briefly demonstrating the varying effects of the reducción program and forms of power (instrumentalist and Foucauldian), which facilitated a layering of different perspectives and lived experiences of the colonial landscape. The installation of bells sought to “reconfigure the rhythms of daily lives” (p. 44) and the arrival of clergy on Sunday to remote communities forbade indigenous communities from performing labor on Sunday. Moreover, as the process of reducción involved shifting tribute requirements there occurred changes with “unintended implications.” For example, the contradictions of the new tribute requirements might have required Indian subjects such as shepherds or fisher people to work beyond the immediate auspices of the newly established reducciones for extended periods of time.

In Chapter 3, VanValkenburgh reviews the environmental factors and physical characteristics of the Peruvian North Coast, including the Zaña and Chamán Valleys. This chapter provides a foundational context to the methodological aspects for carrying out this research, as it discusses the conditions of “material life” possible in the region, as well as the subsequent preservation of the materials essential to conducting archaeological research. Characterizing Zaña’s environment as both resistant and dynamic, VanValkenburgh, uses multiple lines of evidence to consider the varying scales of environmental conditions and factors that shape the North coast, including historical sources to discuss the abrupt and devastating effects of earthquakes and El Niño occurrences. He examines long-term conditions such as geology and climate as well as how aspects of the landscape transformed due to shorter-term environmental and human factors including soil characteristics, vegetation cover, and hydrological systems. The North Coast has been an arid desert dating back to 13-15 million years ago with the cold Pacific waters of the Humboldt Current influencing the local ecology and leaving the coast filled with zones of fog throughout winter months. The river valleys are characterized by a micro-ecological diversity that ranges from lush wetlands and dry forests (once with much more abundance of the useful algarrobo tree and other resources) to barren deserts with aridity and soil salinization that present challenges to settlement. Archaeological research of the region revealed “inter-valley irrigation projects” providing evidence of a diverse array of historical and cultural occupations (p. 52). Through the historical and archaeological analysis in this chapter and later chapters, VanValkenburgh makes clear that the “environments of Zaña and Chamán were not only dynamically impacted by the Spanish invasion and its colonial aftermath, but formed an integral dimension of the object of colonial control and the imagination of indigenous subjects” (p. 77).

In Chapter 4, VanValkenburgh offers a detailed overview of human occupations and interactions throughout the deep past in the region. Beginning with the peopling of the Americas, with successive waves of colonization possibly as early 13000-12000 years ago, VanValkenburgh reviews the archaeological and historical research in the Zaña and Chamán valleys, continuing further in great detail with Spanish colonialism. Reflecting his research agenda, VanValkenburgh traverses the archaeological cultural sequences and segments the history of the region into three periods: early occupations to regional development and urbanism (10,000BCE – 1100CE), Late Prehispanic (1100CE – 1532CE), and Colonial Period (1532CE–1821CE). Drawing from a wealth of recent and classic studies of the Prehispanic past on the North Coast, VanValkenburgh describes and analyzes prominent archaeological sites, diagnostic artifacts and data including ceramics, lithics, botanical remains, architecture, settlement patterns, and iconography among the different inhabitants throughout time. Staying close to the data and citing different studies, the chapter starts by chronicling the early efforts related to domestication, subsistence patterns, and uses of nearby marine resources. It continues to emphasize the archaeological record in relation to the socio-political organization of prominent groups that occupied and interacted throughout the North Coast over time, such as the Sican, Moche, Lambayeque, Chimu, and Inka, among others. In doing so, VanValkenburgh discusses late Prehispanic notions of territoriality and sovereignty, including the varying administrative practices and imperial strategies that facilitated the expansions of distinct cultural occupations. This section, consequently builds the groundwork for an important comparative study with Spanish colonialism. Bearing in mind this dynamic and rich history of the North Coast, VanValkenburgh suggests there are enduring characteristics of the regions and social groups that transcend these cultural-historical categories.

In outlining the historical importance of founding cities and towns for the Spanish conquest (also discussed in Chapter 5), VanValkenburgh turns the lens to what he calls a “Zaña-centric account of Spanish colonialism” (1532-1720). In this section, VanValkenburgh contributes to the conversation on population statistics in the Americas and provides important demographic data showing the effects of disease and migration at local community and regional scales. He also provides additional statistics on labor that specifically discuss indigenous laborers and enslaved Africans, along with other laborers and trades. He discusses the administrative strategies and technologies of Spanish colonial institutions and jurisdictions, which are also the sources for the demographic data, with the tasa and visitas de tierra as early censuses used by the crown to exert greater control and extract more tribute among dwindling native population. VanValkenburgh provides a detailed history of the Zaña during Spanish colonialism including the influence of and investment by the Church and religious orders, as it drew the attention of much religious fervor with numerous churches built throughout the area. In contrast to Middle Colonial Period growth, VanValkenburgh recounts that at the beginning of the Late Colonial period many of the opulent churches along with Zaña’s economy would find themselves nearing ruin due to natural disasters and the changing regional and global economies.

Chapter 5 (Envisioning Reducción) begins with the questions, “where did the idea to resettle native populations come from, and why did it achieve particular traction in the Viceroyalty of Peru in the 1570s?” (p. 184). To understand this, VanValkenburgh advocates for a processual vision of reducción, viewing it as an “evolving and often improvised field of discourse whose points of reference expanded as it came in contact with new realities, including those that it helped to shape” (p. 185). VanValkenburgh notes that, while the conquest in the New World was in many ways seen as an extension of the Reconquista with Spanish colonial officials drawing upon salient discursive references between “Christian” and “Islamic” cultures, the Spanish also looked to Roman and classical philosophy in exploring past imperial and colonial strategies, of which the Roman had left a deep legacy in the Iberian peninsula. The Roman concepts of urbs (“physical form of a settlement”), civitas (its human association), and most importantly policia (civilidad) (p. 188), would influence the Spanish civilizing mission, as they determined the lived conditions and practices that would allow for “gente civilizada.” At the same time, drawing from Classical philosophers, particularly Hippocrates and Aristotle among others, the Spanish would invoke a discourse of the city that connected the character of the people and environmental climate of the area. As VanValkenburgh demonstrates in his closing chapter, these discourses, including claims for the “evil vapors” of an area, would also be appropriated by colonial subjects as they appealed to Spanish colonial orders and locations of settlement.

VanValkenburgh also outlines the history of the reducción movement and its antecedents leading up to Viceroy Toledo’s wide-sweeping reforms in 1572. Juan de Matienzo’s 1567 publication, Gobierno del Peru, which VanValkenburgh groups under the “emerging genre of treatises on ‘the arts of government’” to draw from Foucault (p. 205), would then mark a new era in the history of reducciones. That same year, Gregorio Cuenca would order the reducción of the community of Chérrepe located nearby the Zaña Valley, and would also echo the claims made in Matienzo’s Gobierno. Influenced by Matienzo, Toledo’s plan was also bolstered by a penchant for colonial ethnography, resulting in his program to retain certain elements and institutions of Andean society in order to facilitate Spanish colonialism, just as he sought to radically reconfigure it.

After taking the reader through the history and setting of the North Coast and Spanish colonialism, in Chapter 6 VanValkenburgh provides a thorough discussion of his methods and archaeological approaches to studying the program of reducciones and forced resettlement in the Zaña and Chamán region. He describes the survey, excavation, and analytical methods used in the dissertation project. With archaeological settlement survey, VanValkenburgh follows and robustly cites a nice tradition in Peru, including the pioneering work in the Virú Valley by Gordon Willey (“Prehistoric Settlement Patterns in the Virú Valley, Peru.” Smithsonian Institution Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin. Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office, 1953), along with numerous regional surveys by subsequent archaeologists on the North Coast, and the recent and relevant work by Steve Wernke examining Spanish colonial reducciones (Negotiated Settlement: Andean Communities and Landscapes under Inka and Spanish Colonialism. Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 2013). VanValkenburgh asserts that colonial and early Republic sites have been underrepresented on the Peruvian coast and therefore require a more systematic and observant approach to document the settlements, isolated finds (e.g. glass beads) and subtle features and changes perceived to postdate the Spanish invasion of Peru. With rigor and attention to detail, VanValkenburgh explains the manifold components that made up the survey phase, and includes discussions on techniques, strategies, analyses, and modifications.

Beyond the settlement survey, VanValkenburgh discusses the many other data recovery strategies he used, which included 3D mapping (with Total Station), geophysical survey (Ground-Penetrating Radar, Magnetometry), intensive surface collection, and excavations. With transparent and ethical attention VanValkenburgh carried out bioarchaeological analysis of human remains recovered from the church settlements where he excavated, many of which were exposed from previous looting attempts. He conducted excavations at 3 colonial period sites in order to gain greater insight into a site’s sequence of occupation and contexts. VanValkenburgh further describes the procedures for the multidimensional spatial analysis that incorporated ArcGIS, historical and contemporary print maps, and satellite imagery. Artifact analysis constituted a significant component of VanValkenburgh’s dissertation, and the final section highlights the importance of ceramic analysis and discusses the extent of the ceramic collection, sources for analyses, and diagnostic characteristics of the artifact collection, including useful details on Spanish colonial ceramics. Documenting a rigorous methodology along with foundational data and analysis, VanValkenburgh proceeds to the final section of the dissertation that seeks to illustrate the compelling results.

In Chapter 7, VanValkenburgh presents the results of the survey and spatial analysis of Prehispanic archaeological datasets. Though he uses this divide for narrative expediency, VanValkenburgh is critical of the distinctions made between Prehispanic and Spanish colonialism as epochal transformations, and records archaeological features of all ages, “from Preceramic shell mounds to abandoned 20th century homesteads” (p. 292). The entire survey documented a total of 305 separate “conjuntos,” which VanValkenburgh further categorized into varying settlements and occupations.

In the first section, labeled “The Early Periods,” he provides detailed site information and occupation patterns for a broad swath of time from the Preceramic period (13,000 to 2000BCE), which remains as shell mounds lacking surface ceramics, the Formative Period (1800BCE-100CE) and the Early Intermediate Period (100-750CE), through Moche and up to the early Sican. In conducting the analysis and identifying the archaeological data, VanValkenburgh provides multiple lines of evidence used for diagnostic criteria including architecture, (maritime) settlement patterns, irrigation and canal patterns, ceramics and more. In certain cases, where VanValkenburgh’s data differs from previous studies, he presents both arguments and clearly provides his own supporting data. He provides a valuable discussion of Late Prehispanic occupations and settlement patterns, such as Sican, Chimu and Inka, and how they changed over time. In a region that has been subject to many projects studying the dense and long history of human inhabitation in the North Coast, VanValkenburgh provides a robust discussion and argument of his findings and interpretations and their relation to the relevant data and literature. He notes challenges and limitations to settlement survey, such as limited diagnostic evidence and analytical precision in determining sites, as well as the methods and procedures he took to mitigate the effects.

Considering the intentions of the program of reducción to forcibly resettle the indigenous populations, VanValkenburgh further asks: “to what extent do these data accurately reflect the distribution of settlements as they appeared on the eve of the Spanish invasion?” (p. 379). To address this question, VanValkenburgh juxtaposes the Late Prehispanic settlement archaeological data with a unique historical Visita of the community of Jayanca from 1540. This provides compelling insight into the “configuration of coastal settlements before the era of reducción,” along with critical evaluations for the challenges of identifying small scale and brief domestic occupations in the river floodplain. The Jayanca sample reveals many more small settlements than what the archaeological data recovered.

Continuing with his presentation of original dissertation data and research, in Chapter 8 VanValkenburgh discusses the archaeological evidence for the forty-four Spanish colonial sites and associated activities that were recovered and documented throughout all phases of the project. With comprehensive data collection and analysis VanValkenburgh identifies different material culture and artifacts, settlement patterns, sequences of occupation and abandonment, variation in colonial plans and practices, and reorientations of trade that reflect the varying efficacy and consistency of Spanish colonialism and the reducción program. In presenting the data, VanValkenburgh further breaks down Spanish colonialism into three sections: Early Colonial Period (including Pre-reducción Period) (1532-1600CE), Middle Colonial Period (1600-1720CE), and Late Colonial Period (1720-1821CE). In his assessment of lived experiences in the Zaña and Chamán Valleys during Spanish colonialism, VanValkenburgh deftly moves between the historical record and archaeological evidence, treating them as independent yet related archives, to identify and approximate sequences of occupation, political-economic activities, dietary practices, health and living conditions, and historical references, including tracing the movement of settlements and inhabitants. Moreover, VanValkenburgh’s detailed research of the sites he excavated provide a unique and compelling degree of nuance and insight into Spanish colonialism and the program of reducción.

VanValkenburgh highlights the uneven development of Spanish colonialism in the region evident in, for example, the difficulty in diagnostically identifying early “colonial” sites as colonial, along with many valleys still occupied by disperse population settlements similar to Prehispanic settlement patterns. In further exploring the possibility of enduring indigenous sites of occupation, he investigates how the population declines as noted in the historical record would influence the archaeological visibility of early colonial life. VanValkenburgh’s treatment and investigation of human remains is also very instructive, as they yield evidence of health, living conditions and cultural practices such as the recovery of skulls exhibiting cranial modification (cradle boarding). The project’s bioarchaeologist, Dr. Haagen Klaus (George Mason University), estimates that these individuals were born before 1560 when Spanish cultural influence in the area led to widespread abandonment. What VanValkenburgh then terms the Middle Colonial is marked by increasing agricultural intensification and export economy with sites reflecting wider access to trade and goods. This is visible in the archaeological record through a greater variety of Colonial-era ceramics, Panamanian majolica plates, botija fragments, and porcelain. Overall, VanValkenburgh observes that there was a major increase in settlement nucleation during Spanish colonialism. During Late Spanish Colonialism in the region, with the economy waning and subject to devastating natural disasters, VanValkenburgh found that the sites he excavated – “which were intended to serve as permanent pillars of the ‘Republic of Indians’ under Spanish rule – were abandoned within a century of being founded” (p. 529). With its uneven contours shaped by various factors, human and environmental, VanValkenburgh provides a compelling and informative account of Spanish colonialism on the North Coast, along with questions and suggestions for future research in the region.

Utilizing multiple lines of evidence, VanValkenburgh painstakingly demonstrates the tensions of the Spanish colonial encounter, where lived local realities exceeded the determining grasp of grand idealized imperial projects, most enduringly wrought in the process of reducción. He shows that, despite failures of the reducción program, it left an enduring legacy in numerous ways, including colonial Andeans appropriating reducción discourse to assert their own claims and submitting them to colonial and ecclesiastical courts. VanValkenburgh moves between the historical and archaeological records illuminating the varying material, environmental and social conditions through which colonial Andeans were subject to and ultimately sought to make their own. It is also worth noting that the dissertation is furnished with numerous clear, high-quality maps, photos, tables, graphs and figures that present the research and data collected, in addition to an appendix containing more archaeological data. VanValkenburgh’s work productively contributes to the field offering a sophisticated and nuanced investigation that is profoundly interdisciplinary and methodologically rigorous. It is an excellent dissertation, and the subsequent manuscript should be of great interest and use to scholars of Latin America, historical archaeology and anthropology more broadly.

Alexander Menaker
Department of Anthropology
University of Texas-Austin

Primary Sources

Archivo Arzobispal de Trujillo; Trujillo, Peru
Archivo Departmental de la Libertad; Trujillo, Peru
Archivo General de Indias; Seville, Spain
Archivo General de la Nación; Lima, Peru
Archivo Regional de Lambayeque; Lambayeque, Peru

Dissertation Information

Harvard University, 2012. 637 pp. Primary Advisor: Gary Urton.

Image: Church of La Merced (Zaña, Peru). Photo by Author.

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