• Environment and Geography

    The Ciénaga culture developed in what is now the northwest Argentinean province of Catamarca, although it reached as far as the Calchaquí Valley in the north to the northern edge of San Juan Province in the south. Much of this territory consists of broad valleys and steep canyons. It boasts a warm, dry climate, with vegetation consisting mainly of scrubland and cactuses, as well as trees such as mesquite and chañar, which were an important source of resources for this culture.

  • Economy

    The Ciénaga economy was essentially agricultural. They grew maize in irrigated fields. Herding camelids such as llamas was also an important activity, providing not only meat but also wool and other products, as well as facilitating the caravan trade.

  • Art

    Although a wide variety of Ciénaga ceramics have been found, the most characteristic pieces are vessels with a cream slip surface and black geometric or anthropomorphic designs in black. Beige colored pieces with red designs have also been found. But the most common vessels are dark gray in color and decorated with incised geometric designs. The same motifs are found on the basketwork and on some petroglyphs attributable to this culture. It is believed that a significant part of Ciénaga artistic expression took the form of body painting, mainly with red pigment made from the urucú plant.

  • Social Organization

    We know little about how the Ciénaga social structure. Based on funeral offerings, it is believed that there was some differentiation of rank among individuals, and the artifacts found suggest that the group had craftsmen skilled in certain tasks.

  • Beliefs and Funerary Practices

    Ciénaga cemeteries were very large. Adults were buried in cylindrical shafts, while children, particularly infants, were buried in ceramic vessels or urns. Ceramic items and artifacts made of stone and bone were left as grave goods, with some notable items including strange balls with many points and polished stone axes. In later times, Ciénaga grave goods began to include ceramic beakers decorated with designs featuring warriors. In their ceremonies they smoked a kind of tobacco in large ceramic pipes, which were usually decorated with motifs similar to those found on the incised gray ceramic pieces. Another style of pipe, known as incensarios, features a small conical bowl decorated with stylized human faces.

  • Settlement Pattern

    Ciénaga villages were located on the banks of rivers and consisted of no more than 30 homes. Some were built of temporary materials, while others were stone-built, depending on the availability of raw materials at each location.

  • History

    The Ciénaga developed from the La Candelaria culture, although other cultural influences came from the San Francisco River basin and from what is now Southern Bolivia. They were in contact with other cultures, such as the Condorhuasi, and had trade links to San Pedro de Atacama, in Chile. The Ciénaga culture was also a forerunner of the later Aguada group.