Fields of conflict: A political ecology approach to land and social transformation in the colonial Andes (Cuzco, Peru)

Steve Kosiba, R. Alexander Hunter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


This paper presents a political ecological framework for Geographic Information Systems (GIS) analysis to examine changes in agricultural land in ancient and early historical contexts. It raises several issues pertinent to archaeological epistemology and science, with a particular focus on the limitations of using fixed data categories to examine fluid environmental processes and ecological relationships. The paper draws on political ecological theories that define land as a social process, moving beyond economic conceptions of agricultural land that rest on productive capacity and phenomenological theories that examine the physical environment in terms of cultural perception. It combines qualitative (archival) and quantitative (archaeological) data in a GIS methodology to address how linked changes in physical land attributes and labor routines can affect regional ecologies and foment social conflict. In empirical terms, the paper traces changes from maize to wheat fields during Spanish colonization (ca. 1533-1670) in Ollantaytambo, Peru, a monumental Inca town near the capital of their empire. It reveals how ecological transformations that occurred during this century–widespread deaths throughout, abandonment of Inca fields, and introduction of European biota–in part framed conflicts between Andean people and the colonial regime, and also empowered local farmers to claim land in previously undeveloped areas.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)40-53
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Archaeological Science
StatePublished - Aug 2017

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors are most indebted to the Andean farmers?Ambrocio Ariza Quispe, Mario Quispe Hermoza, Adrian Huarco Quispe, Abelardo Quispe Hermoza, Leonardo Quispe Hermoza, and Miguel Quintase de la Cruz?who helped to shape this study during numerous conversations about crops, soils, rain, and land. Many critical theoretical concepts and perspectives in this article were developed in discussions with Andrew Bauer. We are very grateful to Jes?s Galiano for transcribing archival documents for this study. We thank Rebecca Bria for reading and commenting on the draft, and we greatly appreciate the guidance and patience of Meghan Howey and Marieka Brouwer-Bourg who organized this volume. Finally, we thank two anonymous peer reviewers, whose close reading of the first draft helped us to improve the study. Fieldwork was undertaken with generous funding from a Fulbright-Hays fellowship (2005?2006), University of Alabama College Academy of Research, Scholarship, and Creative Activity (CARSCA) grants (2012, 2014), and Kosiba's start-up funds from the University of Minnesota. All errors are the responsibilities of the authors. ASTER data used in this study are a product of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 Elsevier Ltd


  • Agriculture
  • Andes
  • Colonialism
  • GIS
  • Historical archaeology
  • Inca
  • Land use
  • Political ecology


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