La Aguada

  • Environment and Geography

    The La Aguada people inhabited the mountainous province of Catamarca, but at its zenith the culture covered much of northwest Argentina, occupying different ecological niches, both humid and arid zones in the low, middle and highlands. Their influence extended as far as the semiarid north of Chile, all the way to San Pedro de Atacama in the far north of this country.

  • Economy and Technology

    They had a flourishing agricultural economy, growing crops in terraces and fields irrigated by complex hydraulic systems. They grew beans, squash, peanuts and corn, and collected the fruit of the chañar and algarrobo trees. They participated actively in the extensive transAndean caravan trade, exchanging their produce for resources from far-flung corners of the continent.

  • Art

    The La Aguada people were skilled metalworkers. They made bronze and used the “lost wax” technique to create figures, axe heads, tweezers for removing hair, and metal plates, among many other objects. The metal plates display not only their technical expertise but also represent their symbolic universe. A common motif was the Deity of the Empty Hands, which had both feline and serpent attributes. The La Aguada people were also skilled potters who decorated their vessels with elaborate, finely worked incisions and painted them with different colored pigments. Their designs included geometric motifs as well as mythical figures with combinations of feline, snake, human, bird and frog attributes.

  • Social Organization

    The La Aguada culture was led by a class of political and religious elites, who governed life within their communities. They were divided into independent clans, each based on a particular lineage and descendant from a common ancestor. Given the number of different clans, it is very likely that they had no central authority, even though they shared essentially the same religious system and symbols.

  • Beliefs and Funerary Practices

    These people had complex funerary practices, placing their dead in burial mounds, with several bodies organized and placed in relation to each other. Some tombs contained many grave goods, others less, which points to differences in social status within this society. Ceramic iconography seems to indicate that they worshipped a feline deity, as well as a “Sacrificer” figure, who is shown elaborately attired, with facial adornments, axes and dismembered heads.

  • Settlement Pattern

    The La Aguada culture was present in many different geographic areas and had different settlement patterns within them, but in general there is little distinction between residential and ceremonial sites. Their settlements possessed finely crafted stone buildings where the elite members lived, while the common people lived in mud and grass dwellings on the peripheries. Some sites have structures with a U-shaped floor plan, which have been interpreted as enclosures where ceremonies were performed by the ruling class.

  • History

    The La Aguada culture has clear linkages with the groups that preceded them in the region, especially the Ciénaga and Condorhuasi peoples. From the latter group they inherited bronze technology, clay pipes, certain ceramic techniques and the practice of human sacrifice. Across the Andes, they traded with regions as far flung as the oasis of San Pedro de Atacama and the Copiapó Valley, in Chile. The La Aguada culture disappears from the archeological record around 900 CE, although its legacy can be seen in later cultures of northwest Argentina, such as the Belén and Santa María.