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Zooarchaeology and Cultural Ecology of Puesteros in Southern Mendoza, Argentina

Data and images related to zooarchaeology and cultural ecology of traditional ranchers and pastoralists of west, central Argentina

Project Abstract

Zooarchaeology and Cultural Ecology of Puesteros in Southern Mendoza, Argentina


The puesteros of west, central Argentina are traditional ranchers and pastoralists who live in the high deserts and range up into the Andes. In western Mendoza province, puesteros live in areas that cross several culture continua and physical environmental gradients, such as degrees of interaction with urban economies and differences in residential mobility related to elevation and livestock range condition. Puestero herding lifeways vary from seasonal transhumance (to take advantage of shifting plant phenology from low to high elevation) to sedentary small ranches with large ranges in order to provide opportunities for mobility of grazing goat and cattle herds. Sedentary ranches tend to occur at lower elevations, and seasonally transhumant pastoralism occurs along the escarpment of the Andes and into mountain valleys during the summer. Puestero culture has been shaped in the physical environments of the high deserts and the Andes for much of the last two centuries, and today many factors are converging that are leading to profound cultural shifts.

Anthropologists, archaeologists, and geographers on this team recognize important land use changes that influence puesteros differentially across the physical environments they occupy. Changes in conservation policy at provincial and federal scales and shifts in land tenure practices that relate to neoliberal economic policies and development have influenced ranching and pastoralism practices for puesteros. However, the degree of impact varies with proximity to urban economies; our team is studying the influence of culture change among the puesteros along this gradient. In the context of new employment opportunities, availability of modern medicine, increased access to modern vehicles, and other amenities, young members of some families are leaving the puestos, perhaps ensuring the slow decline of this traditional ranching lifeway. Changes include new emphases on domesticated versus wild animal dietary resources, changes in goat herd sizes and structures, as well as encapsulation (fencing) of large tracts of land under new ownership.

In this context of cultural change, this team has begun to conduct oral life history interviews to record ranching knowledge among puesteros. Related to these interviews we have also initiated studies of local human and physical geographies of puestos in western Mendoza. This project integrates a third arena, that of the archaeology of puesto trash middens to address questions of subsistence change during the last few decades and to compare higher and lower elevation puesteros in terms of wild versus domestic animal exploitation. There are two specific aims of this archaeological component of the project. First, field surveys of puestos ranging from low to high elevation are being administered to record the physical locations and environments of homesteads. At these sites, trash middens are located and mapped. Bones occur in high abundance on the surface of the deposits. Survey and identification of animal bones from middens provides large faunal datasets for examining the meat portion of local diets among puesteros. Inasmuch as consuming goats from local herds as food represent strategies for food resource acquisition, wild animals are likely to have been more important at all puestos in the past, and today it is in the puestos that are more distant from cities where wild animal resources are more common. These zooarchaeological data offer a means to examine cultural change in the puesteros using an empirical material culture record supplemented by oral history interviews of puesteros from the same homesteads.

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Suggested Citation

Steve Wolverton, Clara Otaola, Gustavo Neme, Miguel Giardina, Adolfo Gil, Matthew Fry. "Zooarchaeology and Cultural Ecology of Puesteros in Southern Mendoza, Argentina". (2017) Steve Wolverton (Ed.) . Released: 2017-01-31. Open Context. <>

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