Southern Cone

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Southern Cone

The southern cone of South America, with its tip pointed towards Antarctica, is a region of over 1.5 million square miles (more than 4 million square kilometers) that includes territory in the republics of Uruguay, Paraguay, Argentina, and Chile. The Tropic of Capricorn crosses it in the north. By virtue of its position, it contains high western lands and low eastern lands of middle latitudes, with a marked influence of the Atlantic Ocean and a succession of tropical to cold climates in the extreme south. In the west rises the imposing Andean mountain range and associated mountain ranges. The cold waters of the Pacific bathe the coasts of Chile, forming deserts. The climatic and regional diversity provided abundant resources and various alternatives for the development of native societies, including both nomads and peoples in various degrees of sedentary lifestyles and social complexity.

The territory was first populated 13,000 years ago, at the end of the Pleistocene, the time when archaeology records the initial occupations by groups of hunter-gatherers in the Chilean-Argentine Andean area, Patagonia, and Pampa. Some of these sites have yielded the remains of extinct wildlife, as in Tagua Tagua, Cueva del Medio, Fell, Las Buitreras, Los Toldos, and Arroyo Seco; in others there are primarily remains of today's wildlife such as cervids, camelids, and rodents. Types of stone tools vary, but there were projectiles with "fishtail"-type points, used in different regions of Chile (Quereo) and Patagonia (Fell, Piedra Museo) and even at La China, Sombrero, and Los Pinos, Buenos Aires.

As different environments came under the colonization process, they underwent changes in their types of occupation, ways in which the dead were buried (as in Arroyo Seco), and in stone technology. As hunter-gatherer groups incorporated milling stones and ceramic containers some 2,500 years ago (as at Cueva Tixi, La Guillerma, and Zanjón Seco), they were able to expand the range of foods they consumed. Rocky overhangs and walls with friezes of cave paintings reveal a rich symbolic life. These can be seen at Cueva de las Manos Pintadas and Los Toldos in Santa Cruz, Argentina. Bands of hunters and fishers survived in Tierra del Fuego and neighboring islands until the eighteenth century, when the harsh encounter with the Europeans occurred.

On the Atlantic coast, at the Uruguay and Paraná rivers, hunter-fisher societies existed as far back as ten thousand years ago. With a typical habitat of mounds raised above flood level, their construction displays the first signs of social complexity in the lowlands at Laguna Merín, Uruguay, 2,000 years ago. Around the tenth century ce, population growth and intensive use of river resources took place among the Goya-Malabrigo peoples along the Paraná River basin. A few centuries before the arrival of Europeans, the Guaraní tribes expanded from the upper Paraná River basin, navigating the river and leaving signs of their occupation at various points including Martín García Island, in the estuary of Río de la Plata.

The area of Gran Chaco comprises two sectors: the Chaco Boreal in Paraguay and Bolivia and the Chaco Austral in Argentina. The elevated mounds in the flood-prone areas of the Bermejo and Pilcomayo rivers were the characteristic settlement. There are vestiges of hunting and fishing, fires, pottery, and carved stone axes. Worship of the dead included burial in large vessels or urns decorated with impressions of cords and claws, as at Lomas de Olmedo, Quirquincho, Naranjo, Pozo de Maza, and Las Lomitas. Preserved in Pocitos are long lines of artificial mounds, which might have been used as housing and as elevated agricultural fields. This way of life—based on hunting, fishing, and gathering—prevailed between 500 and 1500 ce. Similar ways of life spread through the Chaco of Santiago, but these were more predominantly based on farming practices. Cultures that raised llamas and other livestock developed in the region of Sierras Centrales, Argentina, and in central Chile between 1 ce and the Spanish Conquest.

In the Andes, several millennia of nomadic life left vestiges in caves such as Inca Cueva, Huachichocana, Yavi, Quebrada Seca (Argentina), Tuina, Hakenasa, Tojo-Tojone, Tulán, and San Lorenzo and in open sites such as Puripica (Chile). The exploitation of marine resources was common at sites on the Pacific coast (Camarones 14, El Morro, Quiani, Punta Pichalo, Las Conchas), where at Chinchorro there developed the tradition of preserving the dead through mummification (7,000 to 4,000 years ago). Between the fifth and fourth millennium bce, there was a move toward food production with the domestication of the llama and the exploitation of basic plant species such as corn, beans, ají peppers, and pumpkins observable at Tiliviche, Pichasca, Los Morrillos, and other sites. Around 1000 bce, sedentary life was emerging in villages of farmers and herders that utilized fertile portions of the high plateau and the valleys, such as at Azapa, Caserones, Guatacondo, Chiu Chiu, Toconao, Tilocalar, and Tulor in Chile and Campo Colorado, Candelaria, San Francisco, Ciénaga, and Punta del Barro in the Argentine northwest. In the sixth century ce, socioeconomic changes took place among the peoples of Alamito, Ambato, and Ciénaga, which led to new, hierarchically differentiated social organizations and an autonomous religious system called La Aguada, while influences were being felt from the Tiwanaku state in the far north of Chile (Cabuza, Loreto, Pica, Topater, Quitor, and Coyo) and Argentina (Doncellas, Volcán).

The decomposition of these systems marked the rise, four centuries later, of the Regional Development period, during which population increased and was concentrated in centers on strategic hills (pukara) such as Huaihuarani, Saxamar, Tangani, Lasana, and Turi in Chile and Yacoraite, Los Amarillos, Tastil, Quilmes, Rincón Chico, and Hualfín in the Argentine northwest. Subsistence was based on irrigation agriculture and the raising of camelids. There was a marked specialization in artisan work, especially in metalwork and the weaving of wool. Many chiefdoms arose, some more powerful than others, as in Arica, Toconce, Lasana, Atacama, and Copiapó in Chile and Humahuaca, Tilcara, Tastil, Calchaquí, Yocavil, and Belén in the Argentine northwest. There were also dynamic networks of exchange from El Chaco to the Pacific. Disputes and wars occurred over control of farmlands and water sources. In the mid-fifteenth century the Incas arrived on the scene, gaining dominance over the various chiefdoms and making them Inca provinces: Atacama, Jujuy, Chicoana, Quirequire, and Copayapo. A complex road and administrative system was established with focal points at Mendoza, Argentina, and Santiago, Chile. The Spanish incursion began in 1536, bringing on a marked opposition from the indigenous peoples and generating the Calchaqui Wars (1560–1666). By the mid-seventeenth century, the Spanish colonial era had fully begun in the valleys of the Argentina northwest.

See alsoArgentina, Geography; Chile, Geography; Paraguay, Geography; Uruguay, Geography.


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                                         Myriam N. TarragÓ

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Southern Cone

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Southern Cone