The earliest human occupations in Bolivia: A review of the archaeological evidence

Quaternary International (Impact Factor: 2.13). 07/2013; 301:46-59. DOI: 10.1016/j.quaint.2012.06.012

ABSTRACT This paper reviews archaeological research of Late Pleistocene and Early Holocene sites in Bolivia. Given that few projects have explicitly dealt with issues related to early human peopling of the country, an attempt is made to provide a comprehensive overview of known available data, focusing on radiocarbon dated sites. Recent research in different regions of the country is not only improving understanding of the variability of early human settlements, but also providing new perspectives in relation to human adaptation and climate change. Furthermore, ongoing research in Iroco and Cueva Bautista, in the highland region of the country, shows that human colonization of high-altitude ecosystems (>3800 m asl) occurred, at least, by 13,000 cal BP.

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    ABSTRACT: Developing spatially resolved high-resolution datasets of robust long-term changes in human demography constitutes a major challenge for archaeology. One approach is to use the distribution of summed radiocarbon-age probabilities to infer long-term population dynamics (i.e. palaeodemography). However, these can often be biased by preservation potential, site taphonomy or researcher priorities among other aspects, all of which require large datasets to resolve adequately. For this report, we have created such a dataset for the South-Central Andes (16°–25°S), here termed the South Central Andes Radiocarbon (SCAR) database. SCAR spans the last 15,000 years and incorporates ∼1700 14C-dates from 519 archeological sites reported across an extreme bioclimatic gradient that includes the hyperarid coastal Atacama Desert and adjacent cold, high-elevation Altiplano. Among the possible methodological biases, we first evaluated those related to calibration procedures. Otherwise, changes in summed probability curves show no other relevant biases except for possible research interest/priorities that could be responsible for the gaps in the record from the Bolivian altiplano. Our temporally continuous time-series indicates that prehispanic populations exhibited significant demographic changes during the last 13,100 cal BP. Except for coastal populations; most regions show strongly coordinated demographic fluctuations that follow the same major patterns. Thus, we identified two broad scale population events across the South-Central Andes (Atacama inland, Bolivian Altiplano) from 13,100–4000 cal BP and then from 4000 cal BP to the present. In contrast, the Atacama coastal records suggest a different and more variable occupation pattern over the last 13,460 cal BP, which could be driven by the interaction with oceanographic processes (i.e. upwelling). A widespread major decline at 700 cal BP clearly predates the Spanish colonization and occurs in all of our regions. This widespread decline does not appear to be due to methodological biases, and suggests that a population crash occurred before European occupation. Overall, the SCAR database constitutes a valuable proxy for establishing the long-term dynamics of prehistoric societies that inhabited the western Andean slope. Time-series analyses that use SCAR will shed new light on the demographic and cultural dynamics at different spatial-scales, and help clarify the processes involved in the migrational trajectories and cultural evolution of the peoples that inhabited the South-Central Andes over the last 15,000 years.
    Quaternary International 11/2014; · 2.13 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Few archeological sites in South America contain uncontroversial evidence for when the first peopling of the continent occurred. Largely ignored in this debate, extreme environments are assumed either as barriers to this early wave of migration or without potential for past habitability. Here, we report on a rare 12e13 ka human occupation from Quebrada Maní (site QM12), a plantless, near rainless landscape (1240 m asl and 85 km from the Pacific Ocean) located in the hyperarid core of the Atacama Desert. This location harbored wetlands and riparian woodlands that were fed by increased rainfall further east in the central Andes during the latest Pleistocene. Excavations at QM12 yielded a diverse cultural assemblage of lithics, burned and cut bones, marine gastropods, pigments, plant fibers, and wooden artifacts alongside a prepared fireplace. Sixteen radiocarbon dates from site QM12 on charcoal, marine shells, animal dung, plant remains and wood reveal that the occupation took place between 12.8 and 11.7 ka. These results demonstrate that the Atacama Desert was not a barrier to early American settlement and dispersal, and provide new clues for understanding the cultural complexity and diversity of the peopling of South America during the Last Glacialeinterglacial transition.
    Quaternary Science Reviews 08/2013; 77:19-30. · 4.57 Impact Factor


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Jun 1, 2014