A high-level assignment: fieldwork in the Peruvian Andes

During my two-week fieldwork trip to Peru this summer, I visited two of my PhD study areas, the Ancash District and the Chillón Valley. The Chillón Valley is home to one of the three main rivers that provide water for Lima and activities in this valley can have major effects on Lima’s water supply. Ancash on the other hand is home to two of the main mountain ranges in Peru, the Cordillera Negra and the Cordillera Blanca, so called because the former is unglaciated whilst the latter is formed of a number of glaciated peaks. It is thought that the Cordillera Blanca may one day look like the Cordillera Negra if glacial retreat continues at its current rate; this contrast between the two was interesting to see as the absence/presence of glaciers also affects the availability of water for irrigation and farming.

Whilst in Ancash we held a community workshop with representative from the local communities around the village of Pamporamas, in the Cordillera Negra, and a representative from a local NGO focused on rural development. This workshop discussed the issues surrounding water availability, and changes in this availability, as well as agricultural productivity within the highly sensitive Cordillera Negra. Following our workshop we visited a number of sites within the Cordillera Blanca, this involved visiting farming communities and seeing how agriculture is practiced today but also saw evidence for past agricultural practices in the form of relic terraces and field systems which would have been in cultivation during pre-Columbian times. We also interviewed local farmers whilst in the field to discuss the present day issues effecting agriculture productivity and sustainability within the study areas. This was an excellent opportunity to record local oral histories about changes in farming practices within living memory, to go alongside the deeper history perspective provided by the sediment core records we also collected.

Across the two weeks we collected six sediment core sequences from lakes and peat bogs from a mixture of settings. Three of the sites were around 3000-3500m in elevation, which places them in a key agricultural zone in the Andes. The two sites in the Cordillera Blanca were formed of infilled basins surrounded by agricultural fields productive at present day. The crops grown around the sites included maize, quinoa, wheat and barley as well as flowers, in a diversion from traditional crops to ‘cash crops’ for export. It is hoped these cores will provide records of changes in agricultural activity and productivity in the past.  One other exciting thing about these two sites is their proximity to Huascarán Glacier, where one of the main ice core records for the tropics originates. This will allow me to compare any environmental signals with the core sequences to an independent climate record, which is very proximal to the sites.


The other three cores collected, all from the Chillón Valley, were situated above 4000m in the puna pastoral zone, which will hopefully provide a record of camelid herding and animal husbandry activities in the past in the form of Non-Pollen Palynmorph analysis. These sites were surrounding by carrels, most of which were not in use at present day indicating animal herding took place in the region in the past.

I also had the opportunity to attend two workshops in Ancash and Lima. The workshop in Huaraz at the Universidad National Santiago Antunez de Mayolo was entitled ‘Living with Climate Change’, and discussed issues around climate change, glacier retreat, water management, quality, environmental change, and food production. This workshop was attended by members of the Mountain Institute, the National Institute of Investigation on Glaciers and Mountain Ecosystems, local community members, mountain guides and members of the local farming communities. This was a great forum to discuss some of the issues we heard about at the community workshop earlier in the week, concerning living with glacier retreat and limited water availability. The Workshop in Lima at the Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos, focused on food production and climate resilience; past present and future and explored how knowledge of the past can help understand the sustainability and resilience of agricultural systems in the future. This also provide a great opportunity to network with people from the archaeology department as well as the Ministry for Culture in Peru.

The fieldwork team in the Shadow of Huascarán Glacier (From Left to Right: Joy Singarayer, Nick Branch, Douglas Walsh, Myself, Frank Meddens, Jesus Brave, Alex Herrera and family and our minibus driver)


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