Much of Argentina's fascinating history is visible on a visit to the country today, not only in colonial architecture and the 19th-century artifacts which fill the museums but in the culture and customs of everyday life. Many towns in the Pampas of Buenos Aires province are just as they were in the 19th century, such as San Antonio de Areco and Chascomús, where thetraditions of a lively gaucho culture are still maintained.
The lives of early pioneers can be explored in the Welsh towns of Gaiman and Trevelin in Patagonia and in the more remote estancias throughout the country. Córdoba's history of Jesuit occupation is visible in many buildings in the city and estancias in the province. And in the northwest of Argentina that you'll find the richest evidence ofthe country's history. This is where the Spanish first arrived in the 16th century, and before them the Incas in the early 15th century, and both have left their mark in colonial architecture and intriguing archaeological evidence.
Long before these invasions, the present day provinces of Salta, Catamarca, Tucumán and Jujuy were inhabited by many sophisticated indigenous cultures whose ruinedcities can be visited at Santa Rosa de Tastil, Tilcara and Quilmes, and whose beautiful ceramics fill the area's many museums. This is the most rewarding part of the country to visit if you're interested in exploring Argentina's past.
The first peoples crossed the temporary land bridge spanning Asia and America and the Bering Strait between 50,000 and 60,000 years ago, and began a longmigration southwards, reaching South America about 30,000 years ago and Tierra del Fuego around 12,000 years ago. Hunters and foragers, they followed in the path of huge herds of now extinct animals such as mammoths, giant ground sloths, mastodons and wild horses, adapting to fishing along the Chilean coasts. In the northeast of Argentina, these peoples adopted a more sedentary lifestyle, pausingin their semi-nomadic travels long enough to plant and harvest crops of maize and manioc, and domesticating animals.
Argentina has a rich history of pre-Hispanic indigenous civilizations, with the most important archaeological sites situated in the northwest and west areas of the most highly developed cultures south of the central Andes. Along a migratory path which followed the Andes, thisregion became a meeting place for established settlers from northern Chile, the central Andes, the Chaco and the hunter-gatherers of the south. Cave paintings and petroglyphs engraved on rocks remain from 13,000 to 10,000 years ago, made by cave dwellers who lived by hunting vizcacha, guanaco, vicuña and birds, some painted with pigments derived from minerals mixed with gesso. Their lines, dots andgeometrical forms belong to a symbolic system impossible to interpret today. The extraordinary quantity of handprints visible in the Cueva de los Manos in Patagonia were made as long ago as 10,000 years, and again, their purpose and origin remains a mystery.
By around 1000 to 500 BC, the nomadic groups had grown in size and were too large to subsist on hunting alone and so started early attemptsat agriculture. They grew potatoes and maize, and a mummy found from this period (displayed in Cachi's museum) with a few artefacts and belongings suggests that these peoples had a developed system of beliefs. By 2000 years ago, small communities had started to gather on the alluvial plains, living on agriculture and herding llamas. In many of the area's museums, you'll see large grinding stonesmade of granite, used to grind maize, as well as arrowheads and pipes used for smoking tobacco. Weaving began around this time, and there are some fine fabrics found at Santa Rosa Tastil.
There were three distinct periods in the cultural development of the northwest. The Early Period (500 BC to AD 650) witnessed the beginnings of agriculture as well as pottery and metalworking, with the remains...