Puquios are systems of subterranean aqueducts found the deserts of southern Peru and northern Chile. Of 36 known puquios in Peru, most still function and are relied upon to bring fresh water into the desert.
The puquios first became a subject of study in the early 20th century, although they had been known before, but historic evidence was scarce. Around 1900 it was noted there were puquios, locally known as socavones (lit. shafts), spread through the oases of Atacama Desert. Today puquios, in various states of use and decay, are known to exists in the valleys of Azapa and Sibaya and the oases of La Calera, Pica-Matilla and Puquio de Núñez.
For some time, scholars disagreed on whether they were built by pre-Hispanic peoples or during the Spanish colonial era, because of a lack of evidence.
The first known historical writing to refer to them was in 1605 by Reginaldo de Lizárraga. Some scholars believe this suggests that the works were built by the Spanish. But none of the available Spanish texts mentions a project to build the puquios, nor do they describe such existing water systems. The theory of a Spanish origin holds that the puquio technique is not substantially different from Spanish techniques used from the early conquest to drain mines. An early example is the mine of Potosí that was drained by subterranean canals as early 1556 following instructions of Florentine engineer Nicolás de Benito.
In 1918 geologist Juan Brüggen mentioned the existence of 23 socavones (shafts) in the Pica oasis, yet these have since then been abandoned due to economic and social changes. The puquios of Pica-Matilla and Puquio Núñez tap the Pica Aquifer.
The puquios of Nazca are thought to have been built by both the Paracas and Nasca cultures. The former group occupied the area roughly between 800 BCE and 200 BCE, and the Nasca from 200 BCE to 650 CE near the city of Nazca, Peru.
The technology of puquios is similar to that of the qanats of Iran and Makhmur, Iraq, and other ancient filtration galleries known in numerous societies in the Old World and China, which appear to have been developed independently. They are a sophisticated way to provide water from underground aquifers in arid regions.
While it was noted in 1992 that the puquios of Nazca had never been fully mapped, nor excavated, satellite imaging in the 21st century has revealed that the system was more extensive in the Nazca region than previously thought. Scholars have been able to see how the "puquios were distributed across the Nazca region, and where they ran in relation to nearby settlements – which are easier to date." The Italian team that conducted this study concluded in 2016 that the puquios are pre-Hispanic. In addition, RPAS (Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems), or drones, were used in 2016 to map and document five sample aqueduct systems in the Nazca region.
In their book Irrigation and Society in the Peruvian Desert (2003) and earlier writings, Katharina Schreiber and Josue Lancho Rojas explore puquios and show evidence that these works were built by a pre-Hispanic civilization. On the other hand, Monica Barnes and David Fleming argue that Schreiber and Rojas misinterpreted evidence, presumably ignoring easier explanations for a construction in colonial times.
As a result of some late 20th-century radiocarbon dating of organic materials and accelerator mass spectrometer analysis of rock varnishes, some puquios were dated to around the 6th or 7th century CE. Some archaeologists contend that the puquios were built by Pre-Hispanic people around 540 CE in response to two prolonged droughts during that time.
Satellite and RPAS research
Rosa Lasaponara, Nicola Masini, and their team of the Italian CNR (National Research Council), in cooperation with archaeologist Giuseppe Orefici, studied the puquios using satellite imaging in the early 21st century. They found clear evidence that the puquio system must previously have been much more developed than it appears today. A series of canals was used to bring water from underground aquifers to the surface and channel it to the areas where it was needed. Excess water was stored in surface reservoirs. To help keep the water flowing, chimneys were excavated above the canals in the shape of corkscrewing funnels. These funnels admitted wind into the canals, and the difference in atmospheric pressure along the canal length forced the water through the system and eventually to the desired destination. Satellite imagery has also revealed additional, previously unknown puquios in the Nazca drainage basin.
- Proulx 1999, p. 6.
- Barnes 1992, p. 111.
- Lictevout, Elizabeth; Abellanosa, Carlos; Maass, Constanza; Pérez, Nicolás; Gonzalo, Yáñez; Véronique, Leonardi Véronique (2020). "Exploration, mapping and characterization of filtration galleries of the Pica Oasis, northern Chile: A contribution to the knowledge of the Pica aquifer". Andean Geology. 47 (3): 529–558. doi:10.5027/andgeoV47n3-3272.
- Proulx 1999, p. 7.
- Proulx 1999, p. 8.
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- Ponce-Vega, p. 280
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- Schreiber K. H., Lancho Rojas J. (2003) Irrigation and Society in the Peruvian Desert: The Puquios of Nasca. Lexington Books, Lanham, Maryland ISBN 9780739106419
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