Huhtikuu 4/97

Ari Siiriäinen & Martti Pärssinen

Eighty years after Erland Nordenskiöld: The question of the eastern frontier of the Inca Empire in Bolivia

This article is based on a paper presented in the conference "Past and Present in Andean Prehistory and Early History" in Gothenburg, Sweden, 16-17. September 1996. It will be published in the forthcoming conference proceedings.

The Swedish archaeologist and anthropologist Erland Nordenskiöld (1877-1932), son of the famous polar explorer Adolf Erik Nordenskiöld, dedicated his whole career to the investigations of South American prehistory and ethnography. He was working in both the highlands and lowlands of northern Argentina, Bolivia and southern Peru. Thus, one of his main explicite interests was to study the relationships of the highland and lowland cultures in a historical perspective and the marginal cultures of the highland sphere in general.

In the late winter months of 1913 Nordenskiöld was leading his small exploration party, consisting of himself, his wife Olga, two Swedish companions and an Argentinian assistant, riding their mules towards the small town of Lagunillas in the eastern foothills of the Bolivian Andes. Before they arrived to Lagunillas, some 20 km or so still to ride, they heard from the local people that not far from the track there are forgotten ruins of an Inca fortress hidden behind thick vegetation. They eventually discovered the fortress, and within the few days the party spent there, Nordenskiöld, being a clever cartographer, had scetched an excellent map over the site and made limited test excavations there. (Nordenskiöld 1915)

The local people called the site Inkahuasi, the house of the Inca, which emphasized the historical importance of the fortress. Nordenskiöld concluded very soon that it could not be anything else than the fortress of Cuzcotuyo of the historical documents. This site was mentioned, among others, by Sarmiento de Gamboa in his well-known chronicle "Historia general llamada Indica" from 1572 and Bernabé Cobo in his "Historia del Nuevo Mundo" from 1653.

Since Nordenskiöld's visit to Inkahuasi and his idenfication of the fortress no-one has dedicated any scholary thoughts to this issue, only a few passing references have been made by historians - one of them is Thierry Saignes, who published a map in his history of the eastern Andes, "Los Andes orientales: historia de un olvido" from 1985. On this map (Saignes 1985: 30) he marks Cuzcotuyo, or Cuscotoro, as it was also mentioned in the historical documents, west of Nordenskiöld's Inkahuasi. Unfortunately, Saignes does not touch the question in his text and thus it remains unknown from where he got the idea of deviating from Nordenskiöld's identification by making a clear difference between Cuzcotuyo and Inkahuasi. But confusingly, in a couple of pages earlier Saignes (1985: 26) explicitly states that Cuzcotoro is precisely the same fortress as Nordenskiöld's Inkahuasi. 

There are also other propositions as to which one of the already known fortresses could be identified as Cuzcotoro. For example, John Hyslop (1990: 176) and Teresa Gisbert de Mesa (1988: 85) suggest that Inkallacta, a large fortress also first described by Erland Nordenskiöld during his Bolivia expedition in 1913-14 and situated c. 250 km northwest of Inkahuasi, could be Cuzcotoro; we consider this, however, unlikely (cf. Pärssinen 1992: 130). Recently Vincent Lee, an architect and amateur archaeologist, located a simple circular wall called Inkapirca on the top of a mountain c. 60 km NW of Inkahuasi suggesting for his part that this could be the Cuzcotoro of the chronicles (Lee 1992). - Thus, at least three different archaeologically known fortress sites have had the honour to be the candidate for this enigmatic fort of the historical sources.

This question in mind we journeyed to the area in August 1993, exactly 80 years after Nordenskiöld and his small party. After a few weeks' search we managed to locate a fortress on the top of Serranía Khosko Toro exactly 50 km to the northwest of Inkahuasi. The site had been visited also by Vincent Lee in 1991 (Lee 1992), but we had no information about this in our disposal when we were exploring the area. However, Lee, being a layman in archaeology, was not able to identify correctly the fortress he discovered (cf. above).

As a comprehensive primary description of the site will be published later together with all the evidence which led us to the top of Serranía Khosko Toro (Pärssinen & Siiriäinen, forthcoming), we only refer here to Figs. X and X in which the general layout of the site and the plan of the main building are given. The large rectangular buildings are obviously kallankas (soldiers' barracks) and the small circular stone settings foundations of kollkas (silos for crops).

We have substancial archaeological, historical and onomastic evidence, which will be discussed in detail in the above-mentioned article, to argue that the fortress on Serranía Khosko Toro is the real Cuzcotoro of the documents, not Nordenskiöld's Inkahuasi nor Inkallakta or Lee's Inkapirca. But if the fortress on Serranía Khosko Toro really is, as we now believe, Cuzcotoro, what is then the correct identification of the fortress found by Erland Nordenskiöld on Serranía Incahuasi? Now we have to turn to certain archive material. Tierry Saignes located, in the Archivo General de Indios in Seville, an inauguration letter to a certain don Francisco Aymoro for the governorship of the Yamparaes area of the Charcas province from 1586; in this letter it is stated that there are in Yamparaes three Inca fortresses, namely one in Dilava, one in Conyma and a third one in Cuzcotoro. Even some other similar documents speak of these same three garrisons (cf. Pärssinen 1992: 124). This means that Inkahuasi must be either Conyma or Dilava - but there should also be a third fortress somewhere on the same mountain ridges. While we were climbing on the slopes of Serranía Khosko Toro, our guide very casually mentioned that in fact he knew another Inca ruin on Serranía Iñao half-way between Khosko Toro and Inkahuasi. Next year, in summer 1994, one of us (MP) took a rough bearing from Khosko Toro to Inkahuasi and could indeed locate a fortress on Serranía Iñao with the help of local campesinos who knew the area well. At this site there were several quite small rectangular buildings plus one larger one, probably a kallanka, and in addition straight walls and three agricultural terraces, but no kollkas. Obviously this site represents a garrison for a smaller military contingent with more occasional or short term occupation than that in Cuzcotoro. Anyhow, even here the stone constructions and the overall plan of the site indicate Inca architecture, and a few potsherds sampled from the site resemble true Inca pottery although with less certainty than in Cuzcotoro, where we found Inca pottery from a testpit we excavated into one of the rooms of the main building.

Thus, we have a chain of three fortresses in our area roughly on a straight line perpendicular to the frontier zone. At this stage it is impossible to say if this is a repeating pattern or not, but this issue is certainly worth investigating even in other sections of the eastern frontier. For instance, west of Lake Titicaca the sites of Iskanwaya and Ixiamas, where the Bolivian archaeologist Juan Faldín (personal communication and a report in the archives of Instituto Nacional de Arqueología Boliviano, La Paz) has located a fortress, might have a third companion fortress somewhere in between. Of course these perpendicular chains of garrisons might consist of only two sites or even more than three. The chains could either reflect a defence system in depth against the plains Indians thus indicating the real breadth of the frontier zone, or they could equally well reflect a process of penetration of the Inca control into the territory of the plains Indians. In the former case the fortresses would have been occupied simultaneously, and in the latter case they would have been built successively as the Inca control extended farther and farther to the east.

The real function, or functions, of the sites is not either precisely known so far. That they were military posts and had a defence function, seems obvious (defensive walls and topographic locations, the presence of kallankas). But as the highlanders had also peaceful contacts with the plains Indians trading metal for coca, wood, wax, honey and exotic birds, these fortifications served probably as trading outposts and strongholds as well - this might explain the Chiriguano pottery we discovered in a testpit we excavated to the main building in Cuzcotoro. In any case, the fortresses were certainly multiethnic communities into which the Incas sent altiplano people as mitimaes and mercenary troops under the leadership of noble Cuzco Indians or "orejones".

Typical for the Inca policy was to continue penetrating as far east as possible for more trading contacts or in order to protect the highland communities behind a frontier zone as broad as possible. This also means that, because of the hostile attacks of the plains Indians and in Bolivia especially of the Chiriguanos and other Chaco tribes, the frontier zone was in a constant process of movement back and forth in an east-west direction.

One of us (MP; Pärssinen 1992) has gone through most of the historical documents in which the activities of the Incas towards the east are related, and he has also critically evaluated some of the conclusions made by historians on the basis of documents. Concerning the frontier zone in northern Bolivia, i.e. east of Lake Titicaca, he is of the opinion, although no direct confirmation in the Inca sources or written documents exists, that expeditions sent by Topa Inca reached the confluence of the Madre de Dios and Beni rivers (Pärssinen 1992: 112). A quipu based text of the descendants of Topa Inca, initially edited and published by John Rowe (Capac Ayllu [1596] 1985, Rowe 1985), tells about an expedition to the land of the Yscayssingas (Iscaycingas) via the province of Paucarmayo. One of us (MP), modifying Rowe's interpretation in certain points, concludes that the land of the Yscayssingas was the ultimate point reached by the expedition and that Paucarmayo is a tributary of the river Paitite. The Paitite (or Paititi), when it refers to a river, is according to the comprehensive document of José Alvarez Maldonado, published by Maurtua (1906), the present river Mamoré. Thus, the expedition sent by Topa Inca reached the Mamoré.

We can further refer to an information by the 17th century Guaranís, related by Vasco de Solís (1635) and also published by Victor Maurtua (1906), that the Incas had a settlement "at the point of the Cordilleras" near the confluence of the Madre de Dios, Beni and Mamoré rivers (Pärssinen 1992: 113). The "Cordilleras" mentioned in the text could well be the Serra dos Parecis range, the northwestern edge of which comes to the eastern vicinity of the confluence. 

The expedition by Topa Inca, like other expeditions sent by the Inca, followed the course through Camata east of Lake Titicaca towards the upper Beni and thence along this river downstreams, and not a direct route along the Madre de Dios due to the difficult river stretches and fierce tribes there (Saignes 1985: 17, Pärssinen 1992: 111). This information, obtained from the historical sources, seems indeed to fit well to the scanty archaeological evidence we have so-far. William Denevan (1966: 22-23) reports possible Inca constructions on the Beni: ruins and mounds ca. 100 km north of Rurrenabaque on the east side of the river (cf. del Castillo 1929) and another ruin and earthworks in Las Piedras opposite Riberalta, i.e. on the west side of the river near the confluence of the Beni and Madre de Dios. Although attributing these sites to the Incas remains highly uncertain, they are nevertheless worth examining with this possibility in mind; in fact José Chávez Suárez, who has visited the Las Piedras site, reports about potsherds discovered there and says they resemble ceramics in Peru (Chávez Suárez 1944: 42).

Further south, not much is known about the Inca penetration onto the Mojos savannas. It is possible that the relatively dense population, which the extensive field systems of Llanos de Mojos bear witness to (Denevan 1966), and the difficult terrain with annual inundations did not encourage the Inca troops or traders to venture very far towards the lowlands. Possibly the trading and exchange activities which might have been going on within that section of the frontier zone took place closer to the Andean piedmont and the yungas. Perhaps the Mojos Indians did not form such a threat to the highlanders that any forts or garrisons would have been necessary to maintain peace and order - perhaps the Mojos inhabitants, living in an area with fairly reliable floods and secure crops, did not experience such economic catastrophes that would have forced them to attack the highland communities. Thus there was no need to protect the interests of the highlanders with a broad control zone as was the case further north.

However, to the south of the Llanos de Mojos the situation was different. There, in the northern parts of the Gran Chaco plains, lived the Chiriguanos, a fierce tribe of the Tupi-Guaraní cluster which posed a real and constant threat to the highland Indians (see Metraux 1948, Calzavarini 1980). There the Inca penetration was again more aggressive. The easternmost fortresses in this sector are Samaipata, possibly originally already from the pre-Inca period (cf. Boero Rojo and Rivera Sundt 1979), and Inkahuasi, established by Topa Inca towards the end of the 15th century or close to the year 1500 (Saignes 1985: 19); Topa Inca also conquered fortresses built earlier by the local señoríos such as Oroncota (Huruncuta) on the Pilcomayo. However, Guacane, a relative of Huayna Capac, ventured furhter east onto the lowlands of Llanos de Guapay (around the recent town of Santa Cruz de la Sierra) governed by chief Grigotá and established fortrersses - trading posts? - there, one of them to Huanacopampa (Saignes 1985: 20). The sources clearly indicate that the Incas were in the lowlands not as real conquerors but basing their control on gifts and "flattering" rather than on direct force.

It is not known with certainty how far to the east the Incas penetrated or extended their control. After analysing several sources, one comes to the conclusion that the outermost limit of the Inca control was as far east as on the Brazilian side of the present border between Bolivia and Brazil (Pärssinen 1992: 134). A border document from 1638 by Joan de Lizarazu, published by Maurtua (1906), tells us that "orejones", most probably local Chicha chiefs from the western Chaco whom the Incas had incorporated into their vasallic allies, had villages ("pueblos de los orexones") near Itatin. This Itatin is marked on a map ("Mapa del Rio de la Plata") from ca. 1600 onto the western shore of Rio Paraguay south of the villages of "Xaray". Xaray, in turn, is a swampy region on the Brazilian side of Río Curiche Grande (in Pantanal of Mato Grosso), and even later maps confirm this location of the villages of the "orejones" (cf. Pärssinen 1992: 134).

These documents give us a fairly clear picture of the real breadth and complexity of the frontier region of the Inca Empire against its eastern lowland neighbours. The frontier region can be divided into three zones in a west-east direction:

- Zone I on the eastern foothills of the high Andes where the local chiefdoms (señoríos) and the Incas had common interests not only economically but also as regards security. The Incas established multiethnic mitimaes communities there and organized the defence against the threat from the lowlands; thus fortresses were built and garrisons maintained within this zone, either as a west-east series of simultaneous forts or successive ones built according to the need. There might have risen mutinies among the local communities but these were rapidly surpressed.

- Zone II on the lowlands near the Andes where tre tribes were "bought" with gifts and agreements to co-operate and trade with gifts and agreements. Some threat occurred from the east and southeast, and especially the Chiriguanos caused troubles by invading periodically the higlands of Zone I. It is possible that small fortresses or trading posts with military contingents were established here (e.g. Samaipata is mentioned in historical documents as being situated on Chiriguano territory), but the most fierce attacks brought Chiriguanos far onto the eastern mountains as the case of Cuzcotuyo graphically demonstrates. These aggressions continued during the colonial period against the Spaniards at least until the early 17th century (Combés & Saignes 1991: 37).

- Zone III extends to the eastern lowlands as far as the highlanders, either the Incas themselves or their allies, ventured to trade. These contacts were perhaps only casual and short-lived, and never based on agreements, but nevertheless local historical sources indicate the presence of highlanders as far as on the Brazilian side of the present border between Bolivia and Brazil. - It is a matter of opinion whether we regard this as conquest, control or just contacts.

The boundaries between the zones were never clear and static, the one between Zones I and II was perhaps the sharpest, but especially the boundary between Zones II and III was diffuse and it is impossible to draw it on the map. 

This reconstruction of the border zone system remains of course highly conjectural and should be taken only as a working hypothesis for further research. Archaeological investigations are needed especially on the lowland zones in order to verify the possible Inca elements, either structures or ceramic influences, there. That Inca influences, perhaps even Inca presence, reached the lowlands also in the more northerly sections of the borderlands is hinted by certain traditions, supported by archaeological and ethnographical evidence, that the highlanders - in fact already well before the Late Horizon of Peru - had contacts with the lowlanders along the middle Ucayali river in the Peruvian selva (Lathrap 1973: 180, Lathrap et al. 1985), although at least deseases to which the highladers were not resistant made it difficult for them to settle permanently in the lowlands (Gade 1979).

Thus, our information about the Andean foreland fortresses, and especially their correlation with the written accounts, has somewhat improved since Erland Nordenskiöld's time. However, archaeological knowledge concerning the lowlands is still deplorably scanty and should accumulate considerably before we have a clear picture of the borderland of the Inca Empire and of the processes through which the interactions between the highlanders and lowlanders developed.


Acknowledgements. Our exploration party consisted of, besides ourselves, Mrs Heli Pärssinen, Mr Juan Faldín of Instituto Nacional de Arqueología Boliviano (INAR) and Mr. Eduardo Salinas from Sucre; our guide on Serranía Khosko Toro was Mr Marcos Varrón. Mr Risto Kesseli drew the maps. The project was financed by the Academy of Finland and carried out in co-operation with INAR (La Paz).


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