School of Geography

School Research Seminar - Mud, mites and the Incan Empire: Quaternary palaeoenvironments in the Andean highlands

11 February 2014

Time: 12:15 - 1:15pm
Venue: FB 2.07 City Centre seminar room

Dr Mick Frogley, Senior Lecturer in Physical Geography, Department of Geography, University of Sussex

Chair: Professor Dave Horne

When the Spanish conquistadors arrived in Peru in the 1530s, the highly advanced Inca state was the largest empire to have existed in the Americas, stretching from the present day Colombian border to central Chile. The Inca owed much of their spectacular success to the practices and infrastructure of earlier societies (which they had freely adopted), as well as to their innovative adaptation strategies in the face of climatic change. However, the details surrounding the expansion, success and ultimate collapse of all these so-called pre-Columbian cultures are still poorly understood, in part because they failed to develop any form of written language and so left no documentary evidence behind. Questions relating to population size, trading activities, land use and large-scale demographic change are therefore difficult to resolve from archaeological evidence alone. This problem (by no means unique to South America) also highlights the difficulty faced by contemporary interdisciplinary climate research, which is becoming increasingly focused on the adaptive responses of society to climatic stresses and shocks, including such livelihood strategies as migration and shifting agricultural practices. Palaeoenvironmental records derived from mountain regions provide a unique opportunity to investigate these responses because (a) they can be sensitive to shifts in climate, (b) past cultures offer a relatively simple society-environment system with which to validate model simulations of the human dimensions of climate change, and (c) these regions experience a range of relatively well understood climatic conditions. This talk will explore recent and on-going research from two lake basins located in highland Peru that, via both conventional and not-so-conventional analysis, have provided a rich palaeoenvironmental record from the region spanning the past 5000 years.