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The Valle Calchaquí
The Valle Calchaqui forms a 250 km narrow north-south strip along the Calchaqui river, between the structural units of La Puna and the Oriental Mountain Range. A bunch of secondary valleys and gorges, both longitudinal and transversal, build up the tributary system of the Calchaqui river. Las Conchas gorge is, in turn, a deep fluvial valley of 75 km long, that spreads from Alemania town to the joint of Calchaqui and Santa Matia rivers.
Both the north access through the Cuesta de/ ObNpo (Bishop's Slope), as well as the southern one through the Las Conchas gorge, present landscapes of extraordinary beauty and singularity, that mark the entrance to this particular geography. It is also connected, in the north, with the andean town of San Antonio de los Cobres through the mountain pass called Abra de/ Acay.
The valley has an and environment which, in general, belongs to the Chacoan Phytogeographic Domain of the Monte Province (Cabrera 1976). with elements of the Prepuna Province. It includes valley bottoms and hillsides with predominance of xerophytic bushy steppes Formations along with widespread assemblages of candle cactus and many churgui tfees. The weather is warm and dry, with annual summer rains up to 80 - 200 mm.
From nomadic hunters to colonial towns. 12000 years of history in the Center South America.
The geologic evolution has left here worthy traces and a particular topography that has given place to the development of a long cultural sequence. The uninterrupted interaction from Prehistoric times on has produced a cultural landscape with unique features. According to archeological records, this occupation began 12.000 years ago, when groups of nomadic hunters-gatherers from the Southern Andes started to explore their territory (Preceramic sites in Los Cardbnes Nafional Park, Los Loros Waters, and Las Flechas gorge). Several researches made dear a continuous human acfivity during the following centuries, that has increased with the arrival of new peoples that already had, agricultural and pottery skills. This started the so called Agroalpharetian Peiiod.
During this period - V BD to XV AD centuries - the region was the habitat of setuers (uparcialidadesr and Oseiiorioer), that left testimony, not only of an advanced agricultural development but also of animal domestication, metallurgy urban planning, administrative and religious pracfices and an intense regional interaction with the northern
Chile and Bolivia and southern Peru (Campo Colo@, Tolombon, Yacochuya, Pucara de Angastaco, El Banial, Las Cottaderas, Pehas B(ancas, Quipon, Las Pailas, Valle Encantado, EJ Churcal, Las Amas, Puente Afto, Palermo and Los Granaderos de la Poma sites). The Valle Calchaqui was the scenery for the expansion of the Tiahuanaco Culture (650 to 850 AD.) and the spread of the lnka State by the middle XV century (Puerta de la Paya, Chinchilao and Potrero de Payogasta sites, and several investigated and described parts of the Inka Trail).
At the beginning of the XVI century the region started a new transformation caused by the Spanish colonization. Its high demographic density and strategic value related with Potosi and Cuzco sites turned the valley into one of the axis of the Tucuman Government. It also was a main scenery for the long fights between Spaniards and Indians, known as Calchaqui battles, that lasted more than a century. Its end by 1670 brought suppression of indigenous religious believes and traditional customs, the imposition of a new language and religion, introduction of new agricultural practices and animals, a new types of urbanization, different labour, administrative and tax practices, and, above all, a process of population removal where indigenous people were scattered throughout the territory. The Spanish Crown declared the region 'Valle Prohibidcio (forbidden valley), and this was kept so until the collapse of the Encomienda economic colonial system (based on grant of land and native inhabitants to a settler) caused a need for working hands.
Upon the old social, economic, religious and cultural prehispanic structures, that were substantially modified by the conquerors, the Valle Calchaqui made its way through the colonial centuries under an economy based on Wifundium, agricultural encomienda, personal service, religious syncretism and biologic crossbreeding.
The splitting up from Spain and the consequent Independence fights at the beginning of the XIX century, found in religion the place for the maintenance of monarchic interests, which delayed Us incorporation to the Republican socioeconomic system.
Since the beginning of the XX century the Valley zone has set people off, and therefore has kept low population density. The traditional inhabitants, mostly renters (of land use, such as for cattle grazing) and small farmers, live on subsistence economies inside a land-based organization system where traditional customs and ways play a predominant role. Market agriculture is made on fluvial terraces, with production of paprika, garden vegetables, vineyards and seed fruits, complemented with extensive breeding of cattle, sheep and goats. Llama breeding is confined to the highlands of the
Poma and Molinos Departments. Crafts and food production, such as goat and sheep cheese and young ("paterosr) m(ines, have got touristic relevance.
The geologic history
The geologic history is not less fantastic. 20 million years ago, before the elevation of the northern Andes, the region got humid winds that favored a tropical forest whose fossil record has been extensively investigated. Later on, the modeling of wind and the violent summer rains on the soft materials produced spectacular natural landscapes of international importance, such as Las Flechas and El Ventfsquero in Angastaco, with the presence of quartzic stones and vertical strata.
The Nevado de Cachi mountain top is an orographyc jewel that, same as other mountain tops in the region, has been object of cult by prehispanic cultures, which is now a key aspect for high mountain -archeology. The Quaternary Ice Periods left exceptional examples of circles and moraines.
Las Conchas gorge, touristically known as Cafayate gorge, has noticeable red rocky formations from the Cretacian Period, unique fossil records and a rich archeological past. There, processes of cortex bring with volcanic eruptions and lake formation took place. Among the most outstanding traces stand fossil frogs (Pipidae) from Puente Morales; marine and continental limestone beds very rich in dinosaur fossil traces; algal and bacterian (stromatolites) fossil beds; fossil fish in La Yesera site, that represent the last marine transgression some 15 million years ago. It is also remarkable that this gorge presents the international KIT limit, that marks the ending of the Cretacian Period and the beginning of the Tertiary, 65 million years ago, when the bulk of the reptilian fauna went extinct. One can contemplate a great variety of geoforms such as Garganta de/ Diablo and Anfiteatro, that were once, under wetter conditions, freshwater falls.
Getting into the Valley from the east and going northwards, at the end of Cuesta del Obispo, Valle Encantado, a place of rare beauty, is found. Nine parapets bearing polychromatic paintings from late Agroalfarerian period bear witness to the pass of man.
At El Tronco valley, tributary to the Calchaqui river, lie late Cretacian bird and dinosaur fossil traces. Those from dinosaurs belong to carnivorous as well as herbivorous (hadrosaurs). They were found out in 1968 by a geologist exploring uranium (Mario Raskovsky), and studied by Dr. R. Alonso. The prints stand: on vertical walls that were ancient shore sides pushed up during Andean movements. Because of being so spectacular, they have been pictured by National' Geographic in January 1993. The bird footprints that turn up beside the dinosaur ones belong to Enanthiomites and are unique worldwide.
This site has an additional interest as part of the multinational site Inka Trail.