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Heritage 2018, 1(1), 100-121; https://doi.org/10.3390/heritage1010008

Hydraulic Chiefdoms in the Eastern Andean Highlands of Colombia

The Foundation for Americas Research Inc., Winter Springs, FL 32719-5553, USA
Received: 16 May 2018 / Revised: 9 July 2018 / Accepted: 9 July 2018 / Published: 11 July 2018
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Abstract

The natural and cultural heritage of the Valley of Leiva in the Eastern Colombian Andes is closely tied to the Colonial town of Villa de Leyva. The popular tourist destination with rapid economic development and agricultural expansion contrasts sharply with an environment of limited water resources and landscape erosion. The recent discovery of Prehispanic hydraulic systems underscore ancient responses to water shortages conditioned by climate change. In an environment where effective rainfall and erosion are problematic, irrigation was vital to human settlement in this semi-arid highland valley. A chiefly elite responded to unpredictable precipitation by engineering a hydraulic landscape sanctioned by religious cosmology and the monolithic observatory at El Infiernito, the Stonehenge of Colombia. Early Colonial water works, however, transformed Villa de Leyva into a wheat breadbasket, though climatic downturns and poor management strategies contributed to an early 17th century crash in wheat production. Today, housing construction, intensive agriculture, and environmental instability combine to recreate conditions for acute water shortages. The heritage of a relatively dry valley with a long history of hydraulic chiefdoms, of which modern planners seem unaware, raises concerns for conservation and vulnerability to climate extremes and the need for understanding the prehistoric context and the magnitude of water availability today. This paper examines human ecodynamic factors related to the legacy of Muisca chiefdoms in the Leiva Valley and relevant issues of heritage in an Andean region undergoing rapid socio-economic change. View Full-Text
Keywords: archaeology; chiefdom ecodynamics; climate change archaeology; chiefdom ecodynamics; climate change
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This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. (CC BY 4.0).
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Smyth, M.P. Hydraulic Chiefdoms in the Eastern Andean Highlands of Colombia. Heritage 2018, 1, 100-121.

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