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Volcanic Risk and Resilience in the Equatorial Andes: Lessons from Quilotoa

Authors: William Pratt*, University of Texas - Austin
Topics: Hazards, Risks, and Disasters, Human-Environment Geography, Indigenous Peoples
Keywords: Ecuador, Volcanism, Hazards, Adaptation, Resilience
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

With an estimated VEI of 6, the Quilotoa eruption of 1280 AD was one of the most devastating eruptions in Ecuadorian prehistory, spreading ash over most of the country and producing broader global impacts that are still poorly understood. In the highlands of Ecuador, the eruption produced catastrophic effects leading to widespread abandonment with some areas potentially left unpopulated for hundreds of years. Climatological data indicates significant cooling and drying in the highlands after the eruption with the gradual onset of the Little Ice Age. In addition to the environmental effects, the eruption influenced a cultural transition in the northern highlands that would have dramatic consequences for the history of Ecuador and the Inka empire. The eruption of Quilotoa and its residual effects may have been largely influential on the sociopolitical changes that took place amongst the Cara, an ethnic group that came to dominate the highlands north of Quito. The Cara were not only able to quickly rebound from this eruption and adapt to their changing environment, but in 200 years they became one of the most powerful and influential ethnic groups in the northern Andes building the largest architectural works in Ecuadorian prehistory and resisting the expansion of the greatest empire in the Americas for over a decade. This paper discusses ongoing research examining the relationship between the environmental and cultural impacts of the Quilotoa eruption and how these impacts continue to resonate in Ecuador today.

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