Master of Arts (MA)


Geography and Anthropology

Document Type



The Andes is one of many regions thought to have developed as a pristine hydraulic state; thus the region serves as a testing ground for theories on the development of irrigation. Since Wittfogel (1957) proposed a correlation between irrigation and the development of pristine states, the relationships between social organization, political power, and coordinated subsistence strategies have been hotly debated. This research will examine the role of irrigation in the transition to early urban settlements in the Nepeña Valley, on the north-central coast of Peru. I especially focus on the nature of political structure and social organization, examining the validity of Wittfogelian hierarchical models as they pertain to irrigation systems and settlement pattern shifts that coincide with changing subsistence strategies. In order to examine shifts in patterns of subsistence and settlement, potential canals are identified for each time period based on site location as well as degrees of social complexity and political authority as indicated by architectural analysis. Influence areas for each major site are also determined from surface data. From architectural density, population estimates are calculated, which allows for an estimation of the areal extent necessary to support the settlements and validity of previously established carrying capacity. Ultimately, it becomes apparent that irrigation strategies were present as early as the Initial Period (1800-900 BC) and firmly established by the Early Horizon (900-200 BC). Irrigation and spatial evidence suggests gradual, in-situ, intensification of irrigation systems, which highlights the intimate relationships between subsistence strategy and social complexity. This development reflects political organization characterized by heterarchy and brings into question dogmatic hierarchical models of social organization.



Document Availability at the Time of Submission

Release the entire work immediately for access worldwide.

Committee Chair

Chicoine, David