Preceramic irrigation canals in the Peruvian Andes

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One of the most important developments in the existence of human society was the successful shift from a subsistence economy based on foraging to one primarily based on food production derived from cultivated plants and domesticated animals. The shift to plant food production occurred in only a few independent centers around the world and involved a commitment to increased sedentism and social interaction and to permanent agricultural fields and canals. One center was Peru, where early civilization and food production were beginning to develop by at least 4,500 years ago. New archeological evidence points to 5,400- and possible 6,700-year-old small-scale gravity canals in a circumscribed valley of the western Andean foothills in northern Peru that are associated with farming on low terrace benches at the foot of alluvial fans in areas where the canals are drawn from hydraulically manageable small lateral streams. This evidence reveals early environmental manipulation and incipient food production in an artificially created wet agroecosystem rather than simply the intensive harvesting or gardening of plants in moist natural areas. This finding is different from previously conceived notions, which expected early canals in lower-elevated, broad coastal valleys. The evidence also points to communal organization of labor to construct and maintain the canals and to the scheduling of daily activities beyond individual households. The development of early organized irrigation farming was combined with a hunting and gathering economy to support an increase in the local population size. © 2005 by The National Academy of Sciences of the USA.

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Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America

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