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Journal of Archaeological Science 37 (2010) 1875e1885

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Journal of Archaeological Science

journal homepage: http://www.elsevier.com/locate/jas

Pre-Columbian human occupation patterns in the eastern plains of the Llanos de Moxos, Bolivian Amazonia
Umberto Lombardo a, *, Heiko Prmers b
a b

Geographisches Institut, Universitt Bern, Hallerstr. 12, CH-3012 Bern, Switzerland Deutsches Archologisches Institut, Drenstr. 35-37, D-53173 Bonn, Germany

a r t i c l e i n f o
Article history: Received 16 November 2009 Received in revised form 2 February 2010 Accepted 6 February 2010 Keywords: Amazonia Llanos de Moxos Settlement patterns Pre-Columbian archaeology

a b s t r a c t
Despite an increasing number of publications regarding the Pre-Columbian earthworks of the Llanos de Moxos, there have been no serious attempts to undertake a systematic survey of the archaeological remains of this lowland region in the Bolivian Amazon. Based on the GIS analysis of data gathered in the eld and retrieved from satellite images, we discuss the spatial distribution of the Pre-Columbian settlements in a 4500 Km2 area of the Llanos de Moxos to the east of Trinidad, capital of the Beni Department, and their relationship with the geographical settings. Our ndings shed new light on the prehistory of the region and bear important implications for our understanding of the impact of PreColumbian human occupation. 2010 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

1. Introduction The investigation of Pre-Columbian remains and cultural evolution in the Amazon is important to understand how humans have adapted to tropical environments in the past. Traditionally, pre-historic Amazonia was thought to have been sparsely populated by hunters and gatherers because poor soils and harsh environmental conditions hindered population growth and cultural development (Gross, 1975; Meggers, 1954, 1971, 1984, 1985, 1991, 1992, 1994a,b, 1995a,b, 2001a,b, 2003a). It was suggested that permanent settlements were relegated to the proximities of major rivers, where the soil was more fertile (Denevan, 1996; Lathrap, 1970) and the abundance of sh ensured easy access to animal protein (Carneiro, 1995). However, in the last few decades, new archaeological ndings seem to indicate that, in fact, the Amazon hosted large populations that developed complex forms of social organization and chiefdoms. These populations appear to have often settled in areas that researchers used to consider unsuitable for such developments (Dougherty and Calandra, 1981, 1981e1982, 1984; Erickson, 2000a, 2006, 2008; Heckenberger, 1996, 1998, 1999, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2009; Heckenberger et al., 1999, 2003, 2008; Mann, 2008; Neves, 1999; Neves et al., 2001; Prssinen et al., 2003, 2009; Porras, 1987, 1989; Roosevelt, 1987, 1991, 1993,

* Corresponding author. Tel.: 41 31 631 8578; fax: 41 31 631 8511. E-mail addresses: lombardo@giub.unibe.ch (U. Lombardo), pruemers@kaak. dainst.de (H. Prmers). 0305-4403/$ e see front matter 2010 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved. doi:10.1016/j.jas.2010.02.011

1999a,b, 2000, 2002; Salazar, 1998; Schaan, 2004, 2008; Walker, 2004, 2008; Wst, 1992, 1994, 1998; Wst and Barreto, 1999). Nevertheless, it is still uncertain just how large and how complex Pre-Columbian societies were, due to the scarcity of quantitative data (Meggers, 2001a, 2003b). In this paper we present new data on Pre-Columbian human occupation patterns in the Llanos de Moxos, a vast seasonally inundated savannah region situated in the Beni Department of Bolivia. The study is the result of an ongoing joint project between the German Archaeological Institute (KAAK, DAI, Bonn) and the Bolivian Unidad Nacional de Arqueologa. The project focuses on Pre-Columbian settlements (Prmers, 2003, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2009a,b; Prmers et al., 2006) (Fig. 1). We would argue that these settlements have been almost neglected by previous studies on the Llanos de Moxos' prehistory, which, with a few exceptions (Dougherty and Calandra, 1981e1982; Erickson, 2000a; Nordenskild, 1913, 1916) have focused on the description and interpretation of earthworks presumably related to productive activities and communication infrastructures, such as raised elds, raised pathways, sh weirs, etc. (Denevan, 1963, 1964, 1966, 1970, 1980, 1991; Erickson, 1980, 1995, 2000b,c, 2001a,b, 2006, 2008; Michel Lpez, 1993, 1997, 1999; Walker, 2000, 2001, 2004, 2008). These studies provide a comprehensive record of the above mentioned earthworks as well as a variety of hypotheses about their ancient use and possible cultural meaning. However, very little is known about the settlements of those who, over the centuries, created what Erickson (2006) has denominated a domesticated landscape. Our settlements analysis also includes forest islands (FI). FI are visible as patches of forest scattered over


U. Lombardo, H. Prmers / Journal of Archaeological Science 37 (2010) 1875e1885

Fig. 1. On the left a pre-Columbian earth mound. On the right, a forest island. The vegetation around the forest island, patuc, indicates wetter conditions due to the ditch surrounding the FI.

the savannahs (Fig. 1). The forest grows on slightly elevated surfaces that normally cover less than 1 ha and are usually less than 1 m tall (Erickson, 2000a). They are often surrounded by a moat-like ditch (Erickson, 2008). Archaeological ndings suggest that almost all the FI were used by Pre-Columbian peoples (Erickson, 2000a, 2006; Langstroth, 1996). Some scholars consider that many of these elevations are remains of levees along abandoned uvial channels, hence of natural origin (Hanagarth, 1993; Langstroth, 1996), while others believe that they are mostly the result of human activity (Erickson, 2006). Causeways and canals were probably built as elements of a communication network that made travelling possible the whole year round (Erickson, 2000c). However, they have been also interpreted as part of a productive infrastructure (Barba, 2003). Excavations at settlement sites in the Llanos de Moxos prior to the GermaneBolivian project were usually limited to test-pits (Bustos Santelices, 1976; Dougherty and Calandra, 1981, 1981e1982, 1984; Hanke, 1957; Walker, 2004). In the whole area of the Llanos de Moxos, only one ceramic chronology has been established, based on seriation results and a little stratigraphic data from one 2 m 2 m pit (Dougherty and Calandra, 1981e1982: 25e46). There is a consensus that the origin of the articial earthworks in the Llanos de Moxos is Pre-Columbian and that the earthworks were used and reshaped over centuries. Nevertheless, there is no consensus on when the rst of those constructions were built. Most of them seem to have been in use between AD 400 and AD 1400 (Dougherty and Calandra, 1984: 182e184; Prmers, 2004: 58). Within this period, ve different ceramic phases have been distinguished in the ceramic assemblages recovered from two sites in the Casarabe region: Loma Mendoza and Loma Salvatierra (Jaimes Betancourt, 2004, 2009; Kupferschmidt, 2004). The data indicates cultural continuity as there are no abrupt changes in the ceramic sequence and some ceramic forms and technical features are long lasting. To date, no serious attempt has been made to carry out a systematic archaeological survey in the western part of the Llanos de Moxos, and virtually no information is available regarding the spatial distribution of settlements or their relation to physical geography. A solid database for the modelling of the Pre-Columbian past of the Llanos de Moxos is very much needed. This paper provides new quantitative data to ll some of the gaps and shed some light on the level of social complexity and political organization achieved by the Pre-Columbian inhabitants of the Llanos de Moxos. 2. Study area The Llanos de Moxos constitute the southwestern part of the Amazon Basin. Most of the ood plains are located in the Beni

Department, NE Bolivia, and they cover approximately 130,000 km2. The climate is characterized by two marked seasons: the rainy season from October to April, when precipitations can reach 500 mm per month, and the dry season with monthly precipitation of <50 mm (Hanagarth, 1993). Temperatures are high throughout the year. From June to September short-lived incursions of cold fronts from the south can occasionally cause sharp temperature drops. Today, the Llanos de Moxos are characterized by a patchwork of forest and savannah grassland (Mayle et al., 2007). The drainage network consists of a complex pattern of active and inactive rivers, but no data exists with regard to their past evolution and long-term variability (Hanagarth, 1993). The Llanos de Moxos, with an average slope of 20 cm km1, are among the largest inundated savannah landscapes in the world (Hamilton et al., 2004; Hanagarth, 1993). Inundations are mainly caused by ooding from the major rivers, but they are also the result of the impeded drainage of local precipitations (Bourrel and Pouilly, 2004). In the latter case, the inundation does not provide nutrients to the savannah. Because of this peculiar hydrology, the savannah soils are mainly acid, very clayey and hydromorphic (Boixadera et al., 2003), and forested areas are mainly conned to the rarely inundated river levees. Given this complex hydrological and geomorphological setting, the savannah areas in the Llanos de Moxos are not very suitable for agriculture (Pereira and Salinas, 1982), but a large supply of small shes can be available for human consumption (Garson, 1980). Our study area is east of the city of Trinidad, the capital of Beni (Fig. 2), and covers approximately 4500 km2. An important part of the study area coincides with the territory of the Sirion, an indigenous group that has been referred to as a typical example of a terra rme society whose growth and cultural evolution has been conditioned by harsh environmental conditions (Meggers, 1971). Nowadays the savannah is mostly used for large scale, extensive cattle grazing, but most of the indigenous population practice subsistence slash and burn agriculture on small plots of forested areas (chaco). 3. Spatial analysis We have used remote sensing and Geographic Information System (GIS) applications to explore the systemic connections that linked settlements with other features, such as canals and causeways. In the present study, we combine new data from an in depth eld survey of the region's earthworks with remote sensing images. The earthworks are analyzed at different spatial scales within a GIS. The research has been carried out in two successive phases: 1) database building and 2) data analysis. The database has been constructed with data gathered during six months of eldwork in

U. Lombardo, H. Prmers / Journal of Archaeological Science 37 (2010) 1875e1885


Fig. 2. The Llanos de Moxos. Rivers are represented as black lines, grey shading represents the forested area, white represents the savannah and dark grey lakes. The rectangle (dashed line) indicates the study area. The continuous line marks the area where we estimate that large mounds can be found (see text). The dotted line marks the smaller area of big mounds as proposed by Denevan.

1) The large scale analysis focuses on the number and types of earthworks present in the study area and their relation to physical geographic features. The study area was classied in 3 coverage classes: forest, savannah and water bodies. Proximity of mounds and forest islands to forests and rivers was analyzed using buffer operations and Euclidean distance calculations. 2) The medium scale analysis focuses on mounds and forest islands, looking at the relation between individual settlements and neighbouring settlements. The Average Nearest Neighbour Distance Index R was calculated to evaluate the degree of clustering for mounds and forest islands (Clark and Evans, 1954). Here, the closer R is to 0 the more the points are clustered. R 1 indicates a random distribution and R > 1 a dispersed one (Mitchell, 2005). Density maps for mounds and forest islands have been built using the Kernel Density tool (Silverman, 1986). 3) The small scale analysis focuses on mounds and forest islands as stand alone entities. XYZ points were taken with a total station and then interpolated in ArcGris 9.3 in order to obtain the DEM for Loma Salvatierra (19847 points), Loma Torrico (4530 points) and Loma Alta de Casarabe (9269 points). These DEM have been used to calculate the volume of the 3 mounds and to estimate the average relation between the volume and area covered by the mounds. This average value has been then multiplied by the area covered by each mound and an estimate of each mound's volume has then been obtained. Thiessen polygons (Hodder and Orton, 1976), whose boundaries dene the area that is closest to each point relative to all other points, have been generated from the mound layer to estimate the territory belonging to each mound (Hall, 1982). In order to avoid possible biases, the Thiessen polygons sharing one side with the limits of the study area have not been included in the analysis.

the study area during 2006 and 2007, and satellite imagery from LANDSAT, CORONA, ASTER and the Google Earth's high-resolution coverage (www.googleearth.com). Probable Pre-Columbian earthworks were rst indentied on satellite images and their geographic coordinates extracted and saved on a portable GPS. Field reconnaissance of previously identied probable Pre-Columbian earthworks was performed by a systematic walking survey and aided by interviews with local cattle ranchers in and around Trinidad and people from the Sirion Territory and other indigenous communities. Mounds in the western and southern part of the study area were mapped with the help of the unpublished Lista de lomas (written communication from Ricardo Botega). The geographic coordinates of the earthworks surveyed were taken with a handheld GPS (or conrmed in the case of those features already indentied on satellite images). The GPS points were taken on the highest part of the mounds and a rst estimate of the area covered by the mounds was made in the eld and later made more precise with the aid of satellite images. Data on Pre-Columbian canals and causeways were obtained both from surveys carried out during the eld campaigns and the visual interpretation of remote sensing imagery. For the mapping of forest islands only remote sensing images were used, a task aided by the sharp difference between the surface reectance of the forest and that of the savannah. The presence of ditches surrounding the forest islands and abandoned river structures in the vicinity of the forest islands were registered in an associated table. All surveyed data was stored with the remote sensing imagery and the DEMs in an ArcGis 9.3 georeferenced database. Feature classes were created for mounds, forest islands, canals and causeways in ArcGis 9.3. Settlement patterns, understood as the way in which people disposed themselves over the landscape (Willey, 1953:1), have been analyzed on three different scales: large, medium and small.

4. Results 4.1. Distribution of Pre-Columbian earthworks: large scale patterns In the study area a total of 113 mounds, 273 forest islands and 957 km of canals and causeways have been found and mapped. Drained elds, which are so prominent in other studies of the PreColumbian history of the Llanos de Moxos are not to be found in our study area. This section presents the results of the mapping of the different earthworks that are present in the study area (Fig. 3) and explores the large-scale spatial distribution patterns of mounds and forest islands and their relation to physical geographic features. Almost all the mounds are located along strips of forest that grow over the uvial deposits of inactive rivers, often on the very edge of the paleo channel. The forest islands are located, by denition, in the savannah. Only 65 out of 273 forest islands (24%) are in the vicinity (within a 500 m radius) of inactive rivers and could, therefore, be remains of natural levees; and only 44% of the forest islands are within a 2 km radius of the forested areas where the mounds are located. Both mounds and forest islands vary in size: the average mound covers 5.5 ha, while the average forest island covers 0.34 ha. Fig. 4 shows the statistics for (a) the mounds and (b) the forest islands. At rst glance, there is no obvious link between the distribution of settlements and present day water bodies (rivers and lakes). Only 22% of the mounds and 23% of the forest islands are within a 2 km radius of present day water bodies. The average distance from active rivers is 11.5 km for the mounds and 9 for the forest islands. Nevertheless, a pattern does seem to emerge, as can be seen in the scatter plots in Fig. 4 (c and d). The spatial relations of forest islands


U. Lombardo, H. Prmers / Journal of Archaeological Science 37 (2010) 1875e1885

Fig. 3. Map of the earthworks in the study area. The small triangles represent mounds of less than 8 ha, the medium triangles represent mounds between 8 and 16 ha and the large triangles represent mounds larger than 16 ha: 1 Loma Salvatierra, 2 Loma Alta de Casarabe, 3 Loma Mendoza, 4 Ibibate and 5 Loma Torrico. The dots represent forest islands and the black lines causeways and canals. Boxes a and b enclose the areas that we consider to be under the inuence of Loma Cotoca and La Loma respectively. The forest area is shaded in light grey and the lakes are a darker grey.

and mounds with rivers are clearly different. On the one hand, most of the forest islands are located between 2 and 6 km from rivers while the mounds are randomly distributed. On the other hand, all the largest mounds are closer to the rivers, while this pattern cannot be seen in the case of larger forest islands. A large number of the mounds are located on the eastern side of the study area, close to the western edge of a small savannah that is crossed by the River Cocharca (Fig. 2), and a large forested area that extends eastwards (Monte San Pablo). This area has the highest

density of mounds. Here, the average distance between two neighbouring mounds is 1800 m and the maximum distance is 3970 m. Most of the mounds seem to be situated on the eastern side of the Mamor river (approximately between parallels 14 200 0000 S and 16 000 0000 S) where abandoned rivers have left many deposits across the savannah. The total area where large mounds are present in the Llanos has still to be conrmed. Fig. 2 shows our estimation based on the location of all the mounds known to us. As can be seen in the map, our estimate is much larger than earlier estimates

U. Lombardo, H. Prmers / Journal of Archaeological Science 37 (2010) 1875e1885


(Denevan, 1966: Fig. 4). If we consider that in our study area we have found a total of 113 mounds and assume that the density of mounds found in the study area is constant throughout the whole area where we believe mounds to be present, it would appear that there are approximately 380 large mounds in the Llanos de Moxos. This is about 50% more than that suggested by Erickson (Erickson, 2000a). 4.2. Distribution of Pre-Columbian earthworks: medium scale patterns In the medium scale analysis we have looked at the distribution of mounds and forest islands and the relations between the different settlements. Mounds and forest islands show different grades of clustering. For the mounds, the Average Nearest Neighbour Distance Index R is 0.91 (with Z score 1.750 and p-value 0.080), which indicates some clustering, although there is a 5e10% likelihood that this clustered pattern is the result of random chance. For the forest islands, R is 0.57 (with Z score 13.736 and p-value 0.0000), which indicates a clearly clustered distribution. Fig. 5 shows that, with a few exceptions, the biggest mounds seem to be located on the edge of areas with high densities of smaller mounds. This pattern can be clearly observed in the case of Loma Cotoca (Fig. 3, a). Loma Cotoca, which is one of the biggest mounds in the whole study area, offers a good example of this tendency. It is located on the outer edge of a cluster made by 15 smaller mounds. Its position is not at the centre of the constellation of other mounds. However, if we look at the whole picture, which also

includes the cluster of forest islands, lakes, rivers and different land coverage, Loma Cotoca appears to be in the very centre of a large and varied territory, right on the very interface between forest and savannah. The central role of Loma Cotoca is also shown by the impressive system of canals and causeways that irradiates from the mound in all directions and that directly connects it with the Ibare River in the south, the cluster of forest islands in the south east, the lakes on the east and the cluster of small mounds on the west. Two other medium size mounds are located on the edge of the cluster, one in the north and the other to the south. Loma Cotoca is the centre of an area of approximately 500 km2, half forest and half savannah, which includes 18 mounds, 25 forest islands, one river and 3 lakes. Another interesting case is the mound La Loma (Fig. 3, b). La Loma covers 19 ha and is located exactly midway between the Mocov River in the north and the Ibare River in the south, 9 km from each. Most of the forest islands that are close to the mound are grouped into two clusters, located halfway between the mound and the rivers to the north and south. Like most of the bigger mounds, La Loma is connected to rivers, forest islands and other mounds through canals and causeways. The mound to the south east of La Loma illustrates the same pattern, as it is also located halfway from the two rivers and about 4 km from another cluster of forest islands. In the southern part of the study area all the clusters of forest islands are about 4 km from the rivers. Approximately half the canals and causeways are located along the lines that connect mounds to each other or to rivers, lakes and forest islands. However, a lot of the canals don't seem to have been built as part of a communication network. Almost 450 km of canals


b 80


Mean = 5.5 Standard Deviation = 4.5



Mean = 0.34 Standard Deviation = 0.35


0 0 4 8 12 Size (hectares) 16 20 24

0 0 0.4 0.8 1.2

Size (hectares)





d 60



20 40

Size (hectares)

Size (hectares)





1 20


0 0 4 8 12 16 20 24 Distance from rivers (Km)

0 0 4 8 12 16 20 24 Distance from rivers (km)

Fig. 4. (a and b): Frequency distributions of (a) mounds and (b) forest islands. (c and d): Scatter plots show the frequency distribution of the distance of (c) mounds and (d) forest islands from rivers versus the size of the sites (right axis).


U. Lombardo, H. Prmers / Journal of Archaeological Science 37 (2010) 1875e1885

Fig. 5. Density map for mounds (left) and forest islands (right). Dotted areas represent the forest.

are not linked to settlement mounds. Fig. 6 shows an area of savannah where most of the canals crossing it belong to a network that is connected to the river. The mounds do not seem to be the main focus of this network because most of the canals are not connected to them. The river shown in Fig. 6 ows from right to the left and during the dry season its water level is about 6 m below the savannah surface. It is worth noting that all the canals that are connected to the river come from the right hand side. There are

other cases in which these networks are connected to lakes and cases where canals connect different savannahs with each other while cutting through the paleo river deposits. 4.3. Distribution of Pre-Columbian earthworks: small scale patterns The study of mounds as individual entities reveals them to be planned, complex buildings that follow a specic architectural design. The TIN (triangular irregular network) of Loma Salvatierra (Fig. 7) shows many characteristics which are shared by numerous other mounds in the study area. The mounds are elevated earthen platforms which host one or more pyramidal structures on their top; they are built on the edge of paleo river channels and are surrounded by man-made canals. Five sites in the area are made up of two adjacent mounds. One of these is Loma Ibibate, reported by Erickson (2000a). Causeways and canals go from the mounds in the direction of other settlements or geographic elements such as rivers and lakes. Some mounds are surrounded by one or more concentric polygonal causeways and evidence of these can be seen at 13 mounds in the study area. In the Loma Salvatierra site, the whole mound complex is surrounded by a polygonal causeway that encloses 21 ha (Fig. 7). In the case of La Loma (Fig. 3, b) there are 2 concentric polygonal causeways, the inner one encloses 75 ha and the outer one encloses 300 ha. To the south of Loma Salvatierra there is a savannah that is surrounded by forest and has a conical prole, with the deepest part almost in its centre. In the very lowest part of this savannah there is an excavated pond (reservoir) connected by a canal to a second pond which is itself connected to Loma Salvatierra by a canal (Fig. 7). Archaeological excavation of

Fig. 6. Detail of canal networks in an open savannah space.

U. Lombardo, H. Prmers / Journal of Archaeological Science 37 (2010) 1875e1885


Fig. 7. Triangular Irregular Network of the Loma Salvatierra.

canals and motor coring of the pond showed that their original depth was about 1.8 m below the actual surface. The Thiessen polygons (Figs. 8 and 9, b) show no correlation between the size of the mounds and the territory that belongs to them. However, the area enclosed by the polygonal causeways correlates well with the size of the mounds they are built around (Fig. 9, a). Unlike the mounds, forest islands are not complex structures, although most of the forest islands in our study area are surrounded by a ditch or depression that is sometimes connected to a canal. Based on the data extracted from the DEM of the three mounds analyzed (Loma Salvatierra, Loma Torrico and Loma Alta de Casarabe), we have estimated that a total of 15 million m3 of earth were moved to build all the mounds in the study area, which is equivalent to almost 3300 m3/km2. In the case of forest islands, if we assume that they are all man-made and that their average elevation is 1 m, then the total volume of earth needed to build them would have been approximately 0.91 million m3. Based on eld observation, we have estimated that building one linear meter of causeway or canal would have required moving 5 m3 of earth. The total amount of earth moved for the construction of the canals and causeways that are still visible today is calculated at 4.8 million m3.

5. Interpretation and discussion The size of the area in which large mounds are found is far greater than the area estimated by Denevan (1966), whose proposal is still being used today as a reference by many scholars (Mann, 2008; Walker, 2008). The highest density of mounds in areas where forests are closely interwoven with savannahs suggests that those areas were preferred for permanent settlements. This reinforces the observation already made by Heckenberger and his team in the Upper Xingu region, where the large settlements are located on the upland/wetland interface (Heckenberger et al., 2008). With regard to the origins of forest islands, several facts suggest that most of them are probably man-made: 1) They are organized in clusters that are strategically situated on the terrain; 2) Only a very few could be the remains of natural levees; 3) Most of them are surrounded by a circular depression that is very probably manmade. As forest islands rarely represent important nodes in the network of canals and causeways and do not show any associated complex structures, we think they could have been secondary settlements. They may have been temporary dwellings to which people commuted for limited periods of time and/or for specic


U. Lombardo, H. Prmers / Journal of Archaeological Science 37 (2010) 1875e1885

Fig. 8. Map of the mounds with their corresponding Thiessen polygons.

reasons, perhaps related to some kind of productive activity that took place in the savannah. Furthermore, the fact that several clusters of forest islands are distributed in specic geometric patterns in relation to mounds also suggests that they were probably part of a bigger planned structure. Some of the clusters of forest islands are connected to the mounds both by canals and causeways suggesting that they were used both during the dry season, when canals were used to transport goods on canoes and during the rainy season, when causeways were used. However, no excavations have yet been done in any of the forest islands; we hope to conrm our interpretation as possible secondary sites in the next future.

The great number of canals and causeways allowed the PreColumbian inhabitants of the Llanos de Moxos to move easily throughout the region both during the rainy and the dry seasons. Nevertheless, not all the canals seem to have been built for transportation. As suggested by the directions of the canals shown in Fig. 6 and by the hydrologic characteristics of the Mocov River, we think that many of them are probably the remains of a drainage system that could have been built to allow agricultural production in the savannah. It is worth noting once again, that no drained elds have been found anywhere in the study area. This is striking because most authors consider drained eld agriculture to be the only possible form of intensive agriculture in the Llanos de Moxos (Denevan, 2001: 247e249). Another kind of intensive agricultural technology has probably existed, but no evidence of this, other than these networks of drainage canals, has yet been found. The locations of Loma Cotoca and La Loma show that the use of space was carefully planned and the settlements were built to maximize access to different resources available in rivers, lakes, forest and the savannah. The earthworks built in the savannah in the south of Loma Salvatierra were probably part of a system aimed at assuring a water supply to the mound; the savannah acted like a giant funnel that carried the rainwater to the central pond (rst reservoir), then the canals brought the water to the mound via a second reservoir. Another striking nding is the impressive amount of earth moved to build the mounds: it is on average 3300 m3/km2 of land, almost one fourth of the earth moved to build the agriculture elds in north Santa Ana de Yacuma, which is estimated in 13,000 m3/ km2 (Lombardo, in press). While the effort put into building agriculture elds was compensated by the food that they provided, there is not any obvious practical or productive reason for making the mounds so high. As Nordenskild (1916) concluded, it is unlikely that the Pre-Columbian inhabitants of the Llanos de Moxos constructed mounds to assure dry dwelling places. To build the mounds, each cubic meter of earth must have been transported a considerable distance, sometimes hundreds of meters. It is not within the objectives of this study to calculate the exact amount of work needed to build the mounds, but we can easily infer that it was incomparably more difcult to build 1 m3 of mound than to build 1 m3 of raised eld, causeway or canal. This suggests that the mounds probably had a very important political and/or ritual role. Mounds are by far the most labour consuming earthworks that have been documented in the Llanos de Moxos. The Loma Cotoca, with an estimated volume of almost 0.5 million cubic meter,

R-squared = 0.844437 RMS = 6.30288
Size of the mound (hectares)

Size fo the mound (hectares)


R-squared = 0.271774 RMS = 8.84238





0 0 100 200
Enclosed area (hectares)




80 120 160 Thiessen polygon's area (Km)



Fig. 9. (a) Scatter plot of mound size versus the size of the polygonal causeway surrounding the mound. (b) Scatter plot of mound size versus the size of the Thiessen polygon.

U. Lombardo, H. Prmers / Journal of Archaeological Science 37 (2010) 1875e1885


suggests that there must have been a large and well-organized community for its construction and maintenance. As mentioned above, several of the mounds are surrounded by polygonal causeways that probably marked the area of the settlement, in a similar way to the circular ditches and earth walls described in the Rio Branco region (Prssinen et al., 2003) and in the Upper Xingu region (Heckenberger et al., 2008). Polygonal causeways and canals intersect the paleo river channels, implying that those rivers were already abandoned at the time in which the mounds were built (otherwise the water ow would have erased the earthworks and probably also damaged the mounds). The ndings suggest that the biggest mounds were probably the centres of a broader political unit: 1) they are very important nodes in the network made by canals and causeways; 2) while mounds show a positive relation in size with the area enclosed by the polygonal causeway, which is probably an indicator of the amount of population they hosted, they do not show the same relation with the size of the associated Thiessen polygon, indicating the existence of political unities beyond the local mound community level. The hierarchy of the settlements is still evident today in the size of the settlement, its location, the annexed network of canals and causeways and the number of other settlements in its sphere of inuence. Probably each cluster of mounds represents a community, and these communities were the basic political units. Every community had an internal hierarchical organization but, there do not seem to have been among different communities. These communities possibly formed a regional peer polity as described for the Upper Xingu area (Heckenberger et al., 2008). However, the presence of important earthworks that connect different communities or drain savannahs that belong to different communities, suggests the existence of a supra-communal political level. This could have been either a centralized and stable political entity or a temporary structure that was established between two or more communities for specic, contingent reasons, such as the construction of big causeways or canals. From the above data, we can infer that the construction of a complex infrastructure allowed the Pre-Columbian inhabitants of the Llanos de Moxos to overcome most of the environmental constrains of this part of Amazonia. However, it still remains obscure how that infrastructure worked and how people managed to maintain such large and permanent settlements. 6. Conclusions The combination of eld reconnaissance, remote sensing and GIS analysis is a powerful tool in order to unveil the relations between settlement patterns and ecological settings. This study has shown that the Pre-Columbian peoples occupied the eastern part of the Llanos de Moxos, establishing an impressive number of settlements and other earthworks that spread from the forest to the savannah. Previous quantitative estimates of the number and distribution of earthworks have been revised upwards. The scale of the mounds and their associated structures reveal that they were monumental building, that they were densely inhabited and well interconnected. The magnitude and the spatial distribution of mounds and FIs suggest the existence of political boundaries beyond the limits of the single settlement. Settlements were organized hierarchically into communities; however, there doesn't appear to be a hierarchical pattern among the different communities, suggesting that, on a regional scale, they formed peer polities. Even though further archaeological research is needed, the intriguing network of canals and causeways, as well as the big mounds left by the Pre-Columbian inhabitants of the Llanos de Moxos, are proof of their success in overcoming the harsh environmental conditions of this tropical oodplain. To learn how they

achieved this goal, will be among the most interesting topics of future research on Pre-Columbian human adaptation in the Amazon Basin. Acknowledgments Part of the research was funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG). Jrgen and Barbara Riester deserve our warmest thanks for their support over all these years. Thanks are also due to Ricardo Bottega, who generously shared his knowledge of settlement mounds in the Trinidad area. A special thank goes to Allison Beeby, Elisa Canal and Jan-Hendrik May for their good advice and revision of the paper. References
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