Variety of agricultural formations on the Bolivian Altiplano

The typical guidebook to Bolivia describes the Altilano as a cold and unhospitable place unsuitable for agriculture, but Google Earth imagery shows a large variety of agricultural systems covering the whole of the Altiplano from the regions bordering Lake Titicaca down to Lake Poopo south of Oruro.

Further examples of differing land formations are given on the page called geoforms while this page attempts to recognise and give examples of the differing agricultural systems which flourished in the pre-Columbian past.

We can try and categorise these according to the following examples.
1. The mountain terraces for which the Andes are famous.
2. Mountain terraces with contour based canals.
3. Low level undulating landscapes with contour based canals.
4. Maze-like parcels of raised land surrounded by irregular water channels called "suka kollus".
5. Regular plots of land bounded by parallel straight canals
6 hilltops surrounded by concentric irrigation channels.
7. Modified mountains with artificial radiating walls or embankments sometimes called "geoglpyphs".
8. The "geoglyph" type of agriculture with long narrow embankments accompanied by circular heaps of stones.
9. Small, regular square stone walled encloseures.
10 Circular enclosures.
11. Rectangular plots.
12. Square plots plots.
13. Irregular stone walled enclosures.
14. Artificial ponds with interconnecting water channels.
15. Canals bringing water to flood salt pans.
16. Artificial environment within salt pans flooded areas.
Some of the old patterns have been eliminated by later cultivations but many can be still detected on the satellite imagery, which also shows up extensive earthquake damage in places where old terraces have been virtually demolished and in others where ancient hilltops with circular channels have been destroyed.



1. The mountain terraces for which the Andes are famous.

ancient terraces near Tiwanaku
Above, oblique view of terracing in the Cusco region.



2. Mountain terraces with contour based canals.

ancient terraces near Tiwanaku
Above, view of irrigation channels following the contours on the mountain terraces, Cusco region.

ancient terraces near Oruro
Above, these terraces/plots in the Oruro region are at an altitude of 14,500 feet...

ancient terraces canals near Oruro
Above, Terraces/canals in the Oruro region



3. Low level undulating landscapes with contour based canals.

contour canals Peru side
At first I thought Google Earth had somehow included a piece of contour mapping into their imagery by mistake - until I realised that these are the remains of a sophisticated system of contour-based irrigation channels. See Contours Peru page

contour terraces Peru side
oblique view of contoured channels cutting into the landscape



4. Maze-like parcels of raised land surrounded by irregular water channels called "suka kollus".

sukakollus near Tiwanaku
Above, an example of the "sukakollus", irregular raised fields surrounded by water channels, now disused.

sukakollus north of lake Titicaca
Above, sukakollus in region just north of Lake Titicaca.

sukakollus
Above, an example of the "sukakollus", raised fields surrounded by water channels.

sukakollus
Above, sukakollus. Where some of the old sukka kollus were revived by prof Alan Kolata and Oswaldo Rivera, production of crops was greatly increased due to the influence of the water channels raising the local temperature also preventing destruction by frost.



5. Regular plots of land bounded by parallel straight canals

parallelcanal near Tiwanaku
Above, close-spaced parallel canals, now disused.

parallel canals sw of Tiwanaku
Above, some parallel canals, now disused, in the region south-west of Lake Titicaca. See Canals Peru page

canals near Tiwanaku   canals near Tiwanaku
Above, left, disused canal and right, canals reused today by the local people.

plot 1 furlong canals near Tiwanaku
Above, the two horizontal parallel canals are 1 x furlong or 660 feet or about 200 metres apart and they form plots of 200 x 250 metres or 400 x 500 Sumerian cubits. Dating is important to establish which unit of measurement was originally used, see below.

chequerboard canals near Tiwanaku
Above, an underlaying system of canals forms a chequerboard pattern with squares of 600 sumerian cubits or 300 metres.

canals grid near Tiwanaku
Above, the underlaying canals form blocks of 600 Sumerian cubits or 300 metres. It can be seen on this photo where older canals have been redug in modern times. The metre was adopted by the French academy of Sciences for universal use in 1793, so if these canals are more recent than 1793, or are modern, they could have been set out in metres, however if they are pre-Columbian then they are probably set out in "Sumerian" cubits of 19.8" whilst if they date from after the time of the Spanish Conquest they could still be in "Sumerian" units such as cubits and furlongs since these were also brought over by the Spanish as the old Spanish vara was in fact the "Sumerian" yard of 33.0". Each block is 600 Sumerian cubits or 360 Sumerian yards square.



6 hilltops surrounded by concentric irrigation channels.

ringed hilltop atlantis-style near Turco
Above, close-up oblique view ringed hilltop near Viacha, La Paz zone.



7. Modified mountains with artificial radiating walls or embankments sometimes called "geoglyphs".

geoglyphs near Tiwanaku
Above, land forms north of Tiwanaku called "geoglyphs" by David Flynn. The geoglyphs are long columns of stones originally cleared from the fields to form "vertical terracing" and often accompanied by small mounds of stones.

geoglyphs stone columns near Batallas, Bolivia
Above, Porfirio Limachi besides one of the columns of stones.

geoglyphs stone mounds near Batallas, Bolivia
Above, Porfirio Limachi besides one of the mounds of stones.

geoglyphs near Tiwanaku
Above, the "geoglyphs" appear to be a fossilised form of prehistoric agriculture.

geoglyphs near Tiwanaku
Above, close-up oblique view.

geoglyphs near Tiwanaku
Above, close-up oblique view shows stream feeding irrigation channels.

close-up geoglyphs near Tiwanaku
Above, close-up oblique view shows stream feeding irrigation channels.



8. The "geoglyph" type of agriculture with long narrow embankments accompanied by circular heaps of stones.

geoglyphs near Tiwanaku
close-up of more "geoglyphs" or landforms in the same zone south-east of Lake Titicaca.



9. Small regular square stone walled enclosures.

square plots
Above, square plots north-west of Lake Poopo.

square plots
Above, the plots are enclosed by walls.



10 Circular enclosures.

ringed hilltop near Turco
Above, circular enclosures north of Oruro.

ringed hilltop near Turco
Above, remains of circular walled enclosure.



11. Rectangular plots.

square plots
Above, regular, measured plots.



12. square plots.

square plots
Above, regular, square plots.



13. Irregular enclosures.

irregular field boundaries near Tiwanaku
Above, in the same zone south-east of Lake Titicaca, some irregular field boundaries.

field boundaries near Tiwanaku
Above, close-up of some irregular field boundaries.

field boundaries near Tiwanaku
Above, some irregular field boundaries oblique view.

irregular field boundareis sw of Tiwanaku
Above, some irregular field boundaries, in the region south-west of Lake Titicaca.



14. artificial ponds with interconnecting water channels.

artificial ponds Altiplano
Above, oblique view showing artificial fish ponds with interconnecting channels near Pampa Aullagas, Lake Poopo.

Altiplano ponds with channels
Above, the ponds are interconnected by tiny channels, near Pampa Aullagas, Lake Poopo.



15. canals bringing water to flood salt pans.

irregular field boundareis west of Lake Poopo
Chipaya region. The salt desert is covered with canals.



16 artificial environment within salt pans flooded areas.

irregular field boundareis west of Lake Poopo
Chipaya region. The small circles are abandoned houses of people who lived in the aquatic environment.
The European system of agriculture is to drain the land and plant crops, but it seems some of the ancient native Americans lived in semi-aquatic environments, flooding the land which attracted fish and wildfowl instead of plantng crops.

Chipaya aquatica Chipaya at work
Chipaya region. The aquatic environment.
The Uru/Chipaya live in semi-aquatic environment, the level plain floods easily.

map Oruro zone agriculture
Above, map of the area south of Oruro showing differing agricultural systems in the Oruro zone.



Additional agricultural systems in other parts of South America.


Above, artificial ponds, the lower left pond measures 4000 metres (8000 sumerian cubits or 20 furlongs) in length. See Beni page for further examples.


Above, artificial ponds, island and canals, See rio Parana page for further examples.


Above, artificial canals feeding complexes of ponds formed from cut off oxbow lakes and channels, See rio Paraguay page for further examples.

   See also additional studies,
   geoforms - geoglyphs and other agricultural landforms    ringed hilltops   earthquakes
   contour forms/irrigation Peru   contourforms/irigation Bolivia    Bombo earthquake route    Bombo route oblique views

   atlantis canals on the Altiplano    canals gallery   Chipaya canals gallery   canals in Peru   Caral, Peru containment canal
   Paria, Oruro containment canals   canal to sea (lago UruUru)    Tabasco, Mexico canals gallery   Pantanal
   Beni, Moxos gallery    rio Paraguay levees canals    rio Parana canals, ponds and islands    rio Parana delta canals   Corrientes
   rio Amazon to Manaus   rio Amazon west from Manaus   rio Orinocco to Amazon canal
   flooding dates on the Altiplano   Atlantis stones gallery

   Atlantis stade - Egyptian and Sumerian cubits   Tiwanaku cubits    Peru cubits and calendar    cubits between altiplano canals
   Teotihuacan measuring unit    Teotihuacan citadel measuring units
   Chichen Itza and El Castillo measuring units    Monte Alban, measuring units
   the Tiwanaku soli-lunar calendar    the Muisca calendar     Lost Calendar of the Andes     Decoding the quipu mathematics    J.M.Allen 5th Dec 2010
   webatlantis@hotmail.com

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