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Early and middle holocene hunter-gatherer occupations in western Amazonia: the hidden shell middens.

Lombardo U, Szabo K, Capriles JM, May JH, Amelung W, Hutterer R, Lehndorff E, Plotzki A, Veit H - PLoS ONE (2013)

Bottom Line: Multidisciplinary research in forest islands situated in seasonally-inundated savannahs has revealed stratified shell middens produced by human foragers as early as 10,000 years ago, making them the oldest archaeological sites in the region.Based on multiple lines of evidence, including radiocarbon dating, sedimentary proxies (elements, steroids and black carbon), micromorphology and faunal analysis, we demonstrate the anthropogenic origin and antiquity of these sites.The existence of early hunter-gatherer sites in the Bolivian lowlands sheds new light on the region's past and offers a new context within which the late Holocene "Earthmovers" of the Llanos de Moxos could have emerged.

View Article: PubMed Central - PubMed

Affiliation: Institute of Geography, University of Bern, Bern, Switzerland.

ABSTRACT
We report on previously unknown early archaeological sites in the Bolivian lowlands, demonstrating for the first time early and middle Holocene human presence in western Amazonia. Multidisciplinary research in forest islands situated in seasonally-inundated savannahs has revealed stratified shell middens produced by human foragers as early as 10,000 years ago, making them the oldest archaeological sites in the region. The absence of stone resources and partial burial by recent alluvial sediments has meant that these kinds of deposits have, until now, remained unidentified. We conducted core sampling, archaeological excavations and an interdisciplinary study of the stratigraphy and recovered materials from three shell midden mounds. Based on multiple lines of evidence, including radiocarbon dating, sedimentary proxies (elements, steroids and black carbon), micromorphology and faunal analysis, we demonstrate the anthropogenic origin and antiquity of these sites. In a tropical and geomorphologically active landscape often considered challenging both for early human occupation and for the preservation of hunter-gatherer sites, the newly discovered shell middens provide evidence for early to middle Holocene occupation and illustrate the potential for identifying and interpreting early open-air archaeological sites in western Amazonia. The existence of early hunter-gatherer sites in the Bolivian lowlands sheds new light on the region's past and offers a new context within which the late Holocene "Earthmovers" of the Llanos de Moxos could have emerged.

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Geographic location of the three forest islands investigated (SM1, SM2 and SM3).a) Bolivian lowlands; b) the Llanos de Moxos; c) Panorama of SM1 (Isla del Tesoro) and surrounding savannah (view towards the SW); d) Digital Elevation Model of SM1 with the location of the 1×1 m test excavation (blue box) and some of the cores (white points) shown in Fig. 3.
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pone-0072746-g001: Geographic location of the three forest islands investigated (SM1, SM2 and SM3).a) Bolivian lowlands; b) the Llanos de Moxos; c) Panorama of SM1 (Isla del Tesoro) and surrounding savannah (view towards the SW); d) Digital Elevation Model of SM1 with the location of the 1×1 m test excavation (blue box) and some of the cores (white points) shown in Fig. 3.

Mentions: Our study focuses on the Llanos de Moxos (LM), in the Bolivian Amazon (Fig. 1a). The region holds an impressive number of late Holocene pre-Columbian earthworks, including hundreds of large earthen mounds and thousands of kilometres of raised fields and sophisticated drainage works, suggesting that the region was able to support relatively large populations in the past [25], [26]. The LM is among the largest inundated tropical savannah landscapes in the world [27], [28]. Today, these plains are characterized by a forest–savannah mosaic resulting from seasonal inundations [29]. River discharge, fluvial sedimentation processes, and inundation patterns are highly variable in space and time [27], [30]–[32]. The complex network of active and inactive river channels suggests that in the past the fluvial system was highly dynamic [33].


Early and middle holocene hunter-gatherer occupations in western Amazonia: the hidden shell middens.

Lombardo U, Szabo K, Capriles JM, May JH, Amelung W, Hutterer R, Lehndorff E, Plotzki A, Veit H - PLoS ONE (2013)

Geographic location of the three forest islands investigated (SM1, SM2 and SM3).a) Bolivian lowlands; b) the Llanos de Moxos; c) Panorama of SM1 (Isla del Tesoro) and surrounding savannah (view towards the SW); d) Digital Elevation Model of SM1 with the location of the 1×1 m test excavation (blue box) and some of the cores (white points) shown in Fig. 3.
© Copyright Policy
Related In: Results  -  Collection

Show All Figures
getmorefigures.php?uid=PMC3755986&req=5

pone-0072746-g001: Geographic location of the three forest islands investigated (SM1, SM2 and SM3).a) Bolivian lowlands; b) the Llanos de Moxos; c) Panorama of SM1 (Isla del Tesoro) and surrounding savannah (view towards the SW); d) Digital Elevation Model of SM1 with the location of the 1×1 m test excavation (blue box) and some of the cores (white points) shown in Fig. 3.
Mentions: Our study focuses on the Llanos de Moxos (LM), in the Bolivian Amazon (Fig. 1a). The region holds an impressive number of late Holocene pre-Columbian earthworks, including hundreds of large earthen mounds and thousands of kilometres of raised fields and sophisticated drainage works, suggesting that the region was able to support relatively large populations in the past [25], [26]. The LM is among the largest inundated tropical savannah landscapes in the world [27], [28]. Today, these plains are characterized by a forest–savannah mosaic resulting from seasonal inundations [29]. River discharge, fluvial sedimentation processes, and inundation patterns are highly variable in space and time [27], [30]–[32]. The complex network of active and inactive river channels suggests that in the past the fluvial system was highly dynamic [33].

Bottom Line: Multidisciplinary research in forest islands situated in seasonally-inundated savannahs has revealed stratified shell middens produced by human foragers as early as 10,000 years ago, making them the oldest archaeological sites in the region.Based on multiple lines of evidence, including radiocarbon dating, sedimentary proxies (elements, steroids and black carbon), micromorphology and faunal analysis, we demonstrate the anthropogenic origin and antiquity of these sites.The existence of early hunter-gatherer sites in the Bolivian lowlands sheds new light on the region's past and offers a new context within which the late Holocene "Earthmovers" of the Llanos de Moxos could have emerged.

View Article: PubMed Central - PubMed

Affiliation: Institute of Geography, University of Bern, Bern, Switzerland.

ABSTRACT
We report on previously unknown early archaeological sites in the Bolivian lowlands, demonstrating for the first time early and middle Holocene human presence in western Amazonia. Multidisciplinary research in forest islands situated in seasonally-inundated savannahs has revealed stratified shell middens produced by human foragers as early as 10,000 years ago, making them the oldest archaeological sites in the region. The absence of stone resources and partial burial by recent alluvial sediments has meant that these kinds of deposits have, until now, remained unidentified. We conducted core sampling, archaeological excavations and an interdisciplinary study of the stratigraphy and recovered materials from three shell midden mounds. Based on multiple lines of evidence, including radiocarbon dating, sedimentary proxies (elements, steroids and black carbon), micromorphology and faunal analysis, we demonstrate the anthropogenic origin and antiquity of these sites. In a tropical and geomorphologically active landscape often considered challenging both for early human occupation and for the preservation of hunter-gatherer sites, the newly discovered shell middens provide evidence for early to middle Holocene occupation and illustrate the potential for identifying and interpreting early open-air archaeological sites in western Amazonia. The existence of early hunter-gatherer sites in the Bolivian lowlands sheds new light on the region's past and offers a new context within which the late Holocene "Earthmovers" of the Llanos de Moxos could have emerged.

Show MeSH
Related in: MedlinePlus