The Late Pleistocene Hunters

IN CENTRAL CHILE (11,400-9700 14C B.P.)

At the current state of knowledge, the earliest well-dated and widely accepted sites of human occupation in southern South America are Monte Verde MV-II (12,50014C B.P.; see Fig. 1) and Piedra Museo (12,890 ± 90 14C B.P.) (Meltzer et al., 1997; Miotti and Cattaneo, 1997). In central Chile, the earliest unambiguous evi-

FIGURE 1 Map showing the locations of the archaeological sites in Chile cited in the text.

FIGURE 1 Map showing the locations of the archaeological sites in Chile cited in the text.

dence of Paleo-Indian hunters associated with a rich Pleistocene megafauna is documented for the open killing sites of Quereo (32°S, 72°W; Nunez et al., 1994b) and Tagua Tagua (34°30' S, 71°1' W; Montane, 1968; Nunez et al., 1994a).

Archaeological strata at the Quereo site are dated between 11,400 ± 155 14C B.P. and 10,925 ± 85 14C B.P. (Quereo II), possibly as early as 12,000 ± 195 14C B.P. (Quereo I; Nunez et al., 1994b; Fig. 2). The butchering site of Quereo I shows bones modified by percussion, a horse skull fractured by a nasofrontal impact, and scarce lithic artifacts. Remains of horse (Equus sp.), deer (Antifer niemeyeri), mastodon (Cuvieronius humboldtii), Paleolama sp., Lama sp., and Mylodon sp. are associated with tree macrofossils (Dasyphyllum excelsum), suggesting that the large herbivores were concentrated in favorable sites of limited extent (ecological refuge) with lacustrine facies within a generally semiarid environment. This open killing site provided excellent hunting opportunities. The Paleo-Indian hunters of Quereo II lived at least occasionally on the shoreline of a marsh with peat deposits where Pleistocene herbivores came to drink. At that site, horse (Equus sp.), mastodon (Cuvieronius sp.), giant sloth (Mylodon sp. and Glossotheri-um sp.), deer, and Lama sp. were identified. At least the horse, and most likely the other animals as well, were killed with stones. Laminar flakes, bone fragments with knife marks, and hammered and polished bone artifacts provide evidence for human activities at that site. The remains of animal skeletons were found in sandy matrix, suggesting that the lacustrine environment was already replaced by a fluvial habitat with sandy beaches between 11,100 and 9370 14C B.P. Further evidence of increasing aridity with the termination of the Pleistocene is found in pollen records at Quereo (Villagran and Varela, 1990). Whereas abundant Cyper-aceae and Myriophyllum pollen suggest the presence of swamps and ponds prior to 11,400 14C B.P., the almost complete absence of arboreal and aquatic taxa after 9370 ± 180 14C B.P. implies increasing aridity. However, in this changing environment, the concentration of animal, vegetation, and water resources in special places provided the best opportunities for Paleo-Indi-an hunters. In this sense, increasing aridity at the end of the Pleistocene would have favored animal exploitation near the wetlands, where an oasis with abundant resources existed.

Similar processes are found in the late glacial paleo-lake of Tagua Tagua and the associated archaeological open kill sites Tagua Tagua 1 and 2 (Fig. 3; Montane,

Paleo Indians Climate
FIGURE 2 Chronostratigraphic sequences of Paleo-Indian and Early Archaic sites in Chile, and general climatic history in central Chile (coast and longitudinal valleys) and northern Chile (circum-Puna area).

1968; Nunez et al., 1994a). Extinct fauna (Antifer sp., Ste-gomastodon humboldtii, and Equus sp.; Casamiquela, 1970) and numerous lithic artifacts, including Fell-type points (fishtail points typical for Pleistocene hunters; Bird, 1951; Massone and Hidalgo, 1981; Flegenheimer and Zarate, 1989; Fig. 3), are dated between 11,380 ± 320 and 9700 ± 90 14C B.P. (Table 1, Fig. 2). Similar to the record at Quereo I and II, the hunters at Tagua Tagua killed the animals in swamps and lake margins with soft sediment, probably by hitting their skulls with stones. Butchering took place in situ, and the presence of charred bones suggests that the hearths were nearby. However, both Tagua Tagua sites show a greater variety of lithic artifacts than Quereo, and strong emphasis was put on killing mastodons. A total of 16 killed individuals was found at both Tagua Tagua sites.

The pollen profile for Tagua Tagua (Heusser, 1983, 1990) shows that Paleo-Indian occupation took place during a phase of rapidly increasing aridity and decreasing lake levels (Fig. 2). Tree taxa (Podocarpus and Nothofagus) disappeared, and shrubs and herbs increased. The earlier site of Tagua Tagua 1, dated be-

FIGURE 3 (a) Map showing the locations of the Paleo-Indian sites at the Pleistocene paleolake Tagua Tagua and (b) an in situ Fell-type (fishtail) point at Tagua Tagua 2 associated with killed mastodons (location arrow in Fig. 3c).

tween 11,380 ± 320 14C B.P. and 11,000 ± 170 14C B.P. (Montane, 1968), was also located close to the shoreline of the paleolake at its maximum extent, whereas the younger site of Tagua Tagua 2 (dated between 10,190 ± 130 and 9700 ± 9014C B.P.) was already located toward the center of the shrinking water body of the paleolake (Fig. 3).

Both sites in central Chile, but also several sites in Patagonia (Markgraf, 1985), have shown that the first humans appeared during times of rapidly changing environments at the end of a long climatic period with relatively stable conditions (at Tagua Tagua since >45,000 14C years 14C B.P.; Heusser, 1983). Vegetation and megafauna—in particular, animals with specialized diets—were not able to adapt to such rapid changes, and they disappeared or became extinct. In this sense, Tagua Tagua and Quereo are two southern examples for the environmental crisis in many parts of the Americas at the end of the Pleistocene. The climatic variability, rapid warming, and aridification (for instance, in central Chile) particularly affected the last Pleistocene specimen of Proboscidae (mammoths and mastodons) in both Americas (Dreimanis, 1968; Bryan et al., 1978; Correal and van der Hammen, 1977; Bonnichsen et al., 1987; Haynes, 1985a). In northeastern North America, the late glacial Proboscidea were also concentrated in ecological refuges and favorable places and, subsequently, were controlled by the Clovis hunters (between 11,500 and 10,500 14C B.P.; Saunders, 1980; Haynes, 1985b) at a time of rapidly increasing aridity, water stress, and vegetation changes. Thus, it appears that the Clovis projectile points in North America and the Fell points in South America are both related to cultures in ecological refuges within rapidly changing environments that resulted in the extinction of Pleistocene fauna.


Although the first colonization of humans in Peru is possibly as early as 12,560 14C B.P. (Guitarrero Cave; Lynch et al., 1985), the oldest date of Early Archaic hunters in the Puna de Atacama in northern Chile is relatively young at 10,820 14C B.P. (Table 1, Fig. 2). Small and highly mobile groups occupied the high Puna, the intermediate valleys, the depression of the Salar de At-acama, and the high-elevation sites of the Precordillera. The earliest Archaic sites are found in caves at intermediate elevations (Tuina and San Lorenzo, between 3000 and 3200 m). It is suggested that these were the starting points for a transhumant pattern of resource use, with seasonal access to the paleolakes in the high

Table 1: Selected Radiocarbon Dates Cited in the Text.



Lab #

14C year

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