Universiteit Leiden

nl en


Multidisciplinary dialogues on the human past of the Urubamba/Ucayali basin: towards a new synthesis

Thursday 18 April 2024 - Friday 19 April 2024
Cleveringaplaats 1
2311 BD Leiden


18 April



Leonardo Arias, Nick Emlen, Rik van Gijn


Highland-Lowland relations: images from the past and the present

Dan Rosengren (University of Gothenburg)

This paper examines the various ways in which the inhabitants of the Urubamba montaña and their relations with highland people have been described during history and how it presently affects our image of social conditions and interrelations. Focus is on the Upper Urubamba, an area that until recently served as a border between the Andean highlands and the Amazon tropical rainforest and their inhabitants and which therefore has been an important channel in the relationship upkeep. Moreover, despite the geographical proximity the stable border maintenance has been a source of speculations regarding the nature of the relationship.

10:45-11:15 Coffee break

The genetic history of the Urubamba/Ucayali basin: what do we know and where to next?

Leonardo Arias (Leiden University / MPI Leipzig)

In this presentation I will review recent genetic evidence from indigenous groups living in the Urubamba/Ucayali basin and neighboring regions, with the aim to address questions related to the demographic dynamics and interactions among Arawakan, Panoan, and Quechuan speaking groups. In addition, I will highlight our recent collaborative efforts in the region, involving local institutions, indigenous communities, and Peruvian researchers that aim at generating whole-genome-sequences from several ethnolinguistic groups to get a detailed view of the genetic history of the Urubamba/Ucayali basin.


Tracing the Evolution of Panoan Languages in Parallel with Archaeological Changes in the Ucayali Basin

Roberto Zariquiey (Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú), Pilar Valenzuela (Chapman University) & Frederic Blum (MPI Leipzig)

Panoan is one of the largest language families in Western Amazonia, with approximately thirty-three languages spoken by around 65,000 individuals. Despite its size and potential significance for understanding the local history, many debates persist regarding its origin, expansion, and internal classification. Scholars have proposed various theories, such as the Northern, Southern, and Central origin hypotheses, but a definitive dating of the time-depth of the Pano family remains undetermined. The hypotheses range from a rather recent origin (~1000 years ago) to origins at a larger time depth (3000-5000 years ago).


To answer some of these questions, this study brings a fresh perspective by computing a Bayesian phylogeny, which is a method that allows for the reconstruction of historical relationships between languages based on lexical data. We further verify the resulting phylogeny with relevant linguistic innovations shared by subgroups of languages. Combining both approaches, we present a new internal classification that is anchored in time. The results suggest that the original diversification of the Panoan language family occurred between 800 and 1800 years ago.

By integrating the results with relevant archeological information, the study aims to uncover more insights into the complex history of the Ucayali basin. The proposed findings not only contribute to a better understanding of the linguistic and historical aspects of the Pano language family, but also open up the opportunity for further examination of its relationship with archaeological evidence and cultural transformations in the region.


Linguistic phylogeny and the Arawakan settlement of the greater Ucayali basin

Lev Michael (UC Berkeley), Zachary O'Hagan (UC Berkeley) & Natalia Chousou-Polydouri (University of Zurich)

The Ucayali River basin and its immediate vicinity is home to two branches of the Arawakan family, the Nihagantsi branch (comprised of Asháninka, Ashéninka, Caquinte, Matsigenka, Nanti, and Nomatsigenga) and the Western Maipuran branch (comprised of Chamicuro, Morike, and Yanesha'), as well as Yine, a member of the Purús branch (which additionally includes Apurinã and Iñapari). In this talk we provide a model of how Arawakan languages entered the Ucayali River basin, diversified, and subsequently reached their modern locations, based: 1) on a phylogenetic analysis of the genealogical relationships among these languages; and 2) an application of Linguistic Migration Theory, a parsimony-based abductive method for mapping linguistic genealogical trees to geographical distributions.

14:45-15:15 Coffee break

Toponymy as evidence of language history in the Ucayali/Urubamba River system: some methodological considerations and new ways forward

Nicholas Q. Emlen (University of Groningen) and Sietze Norder (Utrecht University)

Toponyms (place names) have long played an important role in research about language histories in South America. This is because toponyms often persist long after their source languages are no longer spoken in those places, and thus reflect the footprint of historical language distributions. The value of toponymic data is that they are linguistic data, in the sense that they often contain lexemes or other morphemes from one or more historical languages; but also that they are geographical data, in the sense that they are associated with particular places with a degree of precision that is not the case with other types of linguistic data. However, as linguistic data, toponymy has not always been treated with due methodological care in studies of South American language history; and as geographical data, toponymy has not been used to its fullest potential to answer questions about the historical distributions of languages. In this talk, which brings together approaches from linguistics and geography, we present analyses of toponymic data from Arawakan, Quechuan, and Panoan languages in the Ucayali/Urubamba watershed. We describe the potential of data-driven approaches as well as data-informed approaches to address different kinds of research questions in the region. Our goal is to sketch some historical patterns of these languages, and to show how toponymic data can be used both more responsibly and more effectively in the study of South American language histories.

15:45-17:00 Discussion


19 April 


Quechuan origins and diversity (provisional title)

Willem Adelaar (Leiden University)

In this talk, I present an overview of the history of the Quechuan language family, with special attention to the social, political, and economic contexts in which Quechuan languages have expanded and come into contact with other languages around the region. This includes languages in the Andes, especially Aymara and Puquina, but also languages in the nearby the tropical lowlands (including intensive historical contact between Yanesha' and the Quechua language of Pasco and northern Junín). I will also discuss some lexical links with Arawak languages of the Rio Negro area.


Late Holocene Archaeology of Lowland Western Amazonia: Connections with the Upper Amazon

José Iriarte (University of Exeter) & Carla Jaimes-Betancourt (University of Bonn)

In the last two decades, increasing deforestation and lidar scans over lowland western Amazonia have revealed a diversity of archaeological cultures encroaching into the Upper Amazon and the Andes.  Among them are the Casarabe culture, the geometric ditched enclosures (so-called Geoglyphs), and Circular Mound Cultures, among others. In this presentation,  we will synthesize our knowledge of the deep past of lowland western Amazonia, particularly emphasising the late Holocene (last four thousand years). Some authors have linked archaeological site layouts and ceramics of this region to Arawak, Panoan and Tupi groups. We will discuss these and other long-standing propositions of Amazonian-Andean interactions (e.g., Lathrap) based on iconography and feather art in light of the new archaeological data. 

11:00-11:30 Coffee break

Intra-Arawakan Relations in Caquinte Ethnohistory

Zachary O'Hagan (UC Berkeley)

Caquintes constitute the smallest Nijagantsi Arawak group of southeastern Peru, and their language shows considerable lexical restructuring. Caquintes were little known to outsiders until the late 1950s, and not in more sizable numbers until 1976. By this time, they lived in two groups in the headwaters on either side of the hills that separate the Tambo and Urubamba river basins. Previously they lived exclusively on the upper Pogeni, a right-bank tributary of the Tambo. Prior to this, according to their oral histories, they lived at the mouth of the Pogeni. Thus they refer to Ashaninkas as katonkoniri 'upriver people.'

Caquintes' flight from the mouth to the headwaters of the Pogeni was due to successive violent conflicts with Ashaninkas armed with muskets. Arriving in the headwaters, a shaman, Kotyarini, encountered the Shamaki people, who did not use clothing or practice agriculture. After recovering from a population bottleneck, Caquintes continued to suffer from Ashaninka and Yine raids. Once they crossed the hills into the greater Urubamba basin, they also came into contact with Matsigenkas.

I review these relations through traditional stories told in Caquinte about particular ancestors, some recorded by the author since 2014, others recorded by Kenneth Swift in the late 1970s. I endeavor to date events in an approximate fashion, and note various types of linguistic evidence present in the stories. The resulting impression is one of constant demographic pressure by main-river populations on headwaters populations, and relatively substantial change in short periods. I argue that these dynamics should be considered ancient when considering the historical population movements of the region.


Unraveling Admixture and Isolation Patterns in South America: Insights from the Ashaninka and Beyond

Marco Rosario Capodiferro (Trinity College Dublin)

Despite its crucial location, the western side of Amazonia between the Andes and the source(s) of the Amazon River remains underexplored in genomic and archaeogenomic studies. However, this area likely holds crucial insights into the intricate genetic history of local Indigenous groups and their interactions with neighboring regions. Focusing on this pivotal region, we examined the genome-wide profiles of 51 Ashaninka individuals from Amazonian Peru. Our analysis revealed an unexpected degree of genomic variation, identifying at least two distinct Ashaninka subgroups that were influenced by the extent and timing of admixtures with groups from the Andes and the Pacific coast. On a continental scale, present-day Ashaninka ancestors, who belong to the Arawakan language family,  likely derived from a south-north migration, and further migrated northward into the Caribbean, thereby contributing to the early Ceramic (Saladoid) tradition in the islands. Beyond Ashaninka, the analysis of a large dataset of Indigenous genome-wide data highlights the various histories of isolation and interactions in the complex and fascinating scenario of the South American continent.


Panoan-Arawakan-Quechuan contacts: an areal-typological approach

Rik van Gijn, Mat Azevedo & Alba Hermida (Leiden University)

Following mostly scattered suggestions in the literature of a possibly institutionalized chain of contact between the lowlands, where Panoan groups live, and the Inca-dominated highlands, mediated by the Arawakan groups in-between, we set out to review the patterns in the grammatical profiles of the Panoan, Arawakan and Quechuan languages of the Urubamba-Ucayali valley. Using a fine-grained variable system, we review the extent to which convergence effects can be found in the profiles of the languages of the area.


Yanesha' settlement dynamics on the eastern Andean slopes: Evidence from contact linguistics, archaeology, and human genetics

Lev Michael (UC Berkeley), Nicholas Q. Emlen (University of Groningen), Roberto Zariquiey (Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú)

Yanesha’, an Arawakan language of Central Peru, is spoken in the forested foothills that connect the Andean highlands and the Amazon Plain. The language is fairly well documented, but its historical circumstances – including how the language arrived in the region, and how its speakers have interacted with their neighbors – are still poorly understood. One important source of evidence regarding such questions comes from the effects of language contact that can be discerned in Yanesha’, including the typological affinities outlined by van Gijn et al. in the previous talk, and especially the hundreds of loanwords from Quechuan, Panoan, and Nihagantsi Arawakan languages, as well as Spanish. In a forthcoming paper, we give a comprehensive account of these loanwords; in this talk, we use the semantic domains of those loanwords as evidence of historical social interaction between speakers of the various languages. We contextualize this analysis in findings from human genetics, toponymy, and archaeology, with the goal of sketching a language-oriented history of the region.

15:00-15:30 Coffee break
15:30-17:30 Discussion: distilling questions 



Please register by filling out this form

This website uses cookies.  More information.