Bordered Gardens

Date: c. 1615
Owner: Royal Library of Denmark, Copenhagen
Source Type: Images


This illustration, from Felipe Guaman Poma de Ayala's Nueva Coronica y Buen Gobierno (1615), shows a woman tending an irrigated field in the Andes (which loom large in the background). Irrigation is an agricultural necessity in most of the northern Andes and archaeological evidence dates the region's earliest canals to around 3000 BCE. Large canals and their lesser diversions were carved into the landscapes, channeling water from the rivers of the high Andes to the arid regions near the coast. Reservoirs, such as the one on the left of Guaman Poma's drawing, collected and stored this precious water so that it could be used in the smaller irrigation systems of individual fields (the crisscross pattern of lines in this picture probably represents an irrigation network). Although this reservoir is built of stone blocks, most Incan and pre-Incan reservoirs discovered by archaeologists were made with earthen walls or dug directly into the ground.

The pre-Columbian canal system of Peru was both effective and vast; in fact, it may have provided water for 15-20% more of the coastal area than the modern infrastructure and most of the canal system has been abandoned. Tectonic events and wars, both between different Andean groups and with the Spanish, account partially for this, yet the major reason for the inadequate distribution of water in the modern era is mono-crop agriculture. Sugarcane and rice have become major cash crops in Peru and are monopolizing the water resources previously used to grow maize, potatoes, and cotton. Though the impact has been less profound in Peru than the Caribbean or Brazil, the market encouraging the mass production of a few staple crops has reshaped Andean society.


Denevan, William W. Cultivated Landscapes of Native Amazonia and the Andes. New York: Oxford University Press USA, 2003.

CITATION: Drawing 396. November: Time of watering the maize, of scarcity of water, time of heat. In Guaman Poma, Felipe. Nueva Coronica y Buen Gobierno. 1615. Courtesy of the Royal Library of Denmark.