Magazine article Americas (English Edition)

Vestiges of a Lost Civilization: The Complex and Elaborate Maze of Ruins Created by the Quilmes Civilization Is One of the Most Important Archeological Areas in Argentina

Magazine article Americas (English Edition)

Vestiges of a Lost Civilization: The Complex and Elaborate Maze of Ruins Created by the Quilmes Civilization Is One of the Most Important Archeological Areas in Argentina

Article excerpt

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Quilmes is a name well known to many as a brand of beer brewed in the town of the same name located in the metropolitan area of Buenos Aires, Argentina. What is not so well known, however, is that Quilmes was the name the people that settled in northwestern Argentina around 800 BC Although there is little evidence of their provenance, it is believed that they descended either from Peruvian groups that migrated south through Bolivia; or from Chile, west of the Andes; or even from the south, from the areas that are now the San Juan and Catamarea provinces of Argentina. We may never be certain of their origins, but we do know of their fate.

The Quilmes developed an advanced community as evidenced by the ruins of their city, the most important archeological remains of the Calchaqui Valley. The panoramic view of the city foundations seen from the hill that serves as a backdrop to the site is an unforgettable sight. The location on the slopes of Cerro Alto, High Hill, was well chosen for its expansive view of the valley below, with clear views north, east, and south stretching for many miles. The Quilmes' pucara (fort) provided refuge for inhabitants during war times, and its high vantage point allowed for early detection of approaching friends even as it facilitated defense against aggressors.

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By the mid 1500s, when the first Spanish conquerors arrived in the region and began the settlement of Barco, a short-lived town in the Tucuman area, the Quilmes numbered about 2,000. Families lived together in small rooms connected by storage areas and patios. The rooms had double walls made of stone, and the space in between the two walls was filled with dirt and pebbles to provide better insulation. The roofs may have been made of wood, reeds, or possibly cardones, the tall Saguaro-like cactus ubiquitous in this mountainous region. Cardoon wood is dry, soft, and light but is very durable in this climate. Some historians believe that the constructions had no roofs because there are no visible columns for support. However, it is possible that horizontal beams may have rested on the walls and supported a roof. The entire village was compact, and houses were connected to each other and to passage ways and plazas. They extended down the side of the hill to the flat terrain below, covering an area of roughly 400 acres enclosed by a protective wall along its lower borders.

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The complexity of the dwellings, their terraces, and the strategic location of their settlement for defense as well as daily sustenance are all evidence of the Quilmes' ingenuity and laboriousness. The Quilmes were clever farmers who built growing platforms on the hills for Calchaquivation of corn, beans, potatoes, peanuts, squash, and peppers. They built a dam to contain the precious water needed for irrigation and drinking. The dam was highly advanced in design, collecting water and distributing it to the crops over canals tiled with flat stones.

The Quilmes also herded a large number of alpacas, llamas, and guanacos, native Andean animals similar to camels. These animals provided meat for food, wool for weaving of garments and blankets, hide for shoes, and bones for utensils. They were also used to carry light loads. The Quilmes were skilled hunters and formidable warriors who used sling shots, lances, and arrows.

Even today, perched high on the hill above the ruins, it is easy to imagine the beauty of the region during primordial times of peace. The Quilmes ruins are miles away from any town and the landscape maintains a pristine look, uninterrupted even by the presence of a small nearby inn, which blends easily into the surroundings.

The immensity of the landscape stretched to the horizon, the intricate patterns of the foundations below, and an awareness of stories from the past lend the place a mystical aura that makes it possible "to listen to the silence. …

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