Paleoecology and sedentism of early coastal hunter-gatherers in north Chile

by Teresa Cristina Franco

Institution: Vanderbilt University
Department: Anthropology
Degree: PhD
Year: 2015
Keywords: Huaca Prieta; Atacama coast; Middle Holocene; paleoenvironment; Sedentism; Camarones 14; Camarones Sur; Concholepas concholepas; Early Cultural Complexity; Chinchorro; Shell growth lines
Record ID: 2058174
Full text PDF: http://etd.library.vanderbilt.edu/available/etd-03222015-141458/


During the early-middle Holocene (7500-4000 BP) on the west coast of South America, the intense exploitation of a changing marine environment led to sedentism and an increase in social complexity (e.g., Moseley 1975, 1988; Yesner 1980; Erlandson and Jones 2002; Arnold 2004). One of the most archaeologically visible societies during this period was Chinchorro in northern Chile and southern Peru. These people were maritime foragers who developed a sophisticated mummification process of human cadavers, in fact, the earliest in the world. Scholars have generally thought that the technological and symbolic sophistication of Chinchorro mortuary patterns is strong evidence to infer a sedentary lifeway and social complexity. However, to date, no hard empirical evidence has ever been established to show that these people were sedentary and complex beyond their mortuary practices. My research primarily focused on the earlier maritime societies that once lived in the circumscribed environments of river deltas in the arid central-north of Chile on the Pacific coast during the early-middle Holocene. It took a paleoecological approach - seasonal growth-ring studies of shellfish - to investigate sedentism and seasonality of resource procurement at two Chinchorro archaeological sites, Camarones 14 and Camarones Sur, on the north coast of the Atacama Desert. I also investigated the seasonality of procurement of shellfish remains at the Huaca Prieta mound (north coast of Peru), which presents a different type of social complexity from ~7,500-4,000 BP. The methodology was centralized in the analysis of the shell growth rings of selected species. I developed a new methodological approach to shell growth ring analysis for the study of seasonality and possibly sedentism. Although this research was more methodological than theoretical in focus, several conceptual and interpretative issues were investigated, that is, whether similar environmental conditions as well as social and technological ones, influence cultural complexity in the way it was developed by the Chinchorro society and by Peruvian peoples at Huaca Prieta.