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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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Steroid inventory of SM1.Single steroid abundance is expressed as percentage of total steroid amount. Cholesterol, ß-stigmasterol and b-Sitosterol occur in meat and plant tissues, while coprostanol, epicoprostanol and ß-coprostan mostly result from the digestion process of omnivores (for method details and IUPAC names see Text S1).
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pone-0072746-g008: Steroid inventory of SM1.Single steroid abundance is expressed as percentage of total steroid amount. Cholesterol, ß-stigmasterol and b-Sitosterol occur in meat and plant tissues, while coprostanol, epicoprostanol and ß-coprostan mostly result from the digestion process of omnivores (for method details and IUPAC names see Text S1).

Mentions: The analysis of steroids as specific markers for faeces points to omnivore sources, with coprostanol, a biomarker for human presence [50]–[53], dominating the main steroid fraction in the SM1 profile (Fig. 7, 8). Significant enrichment of coprostanol within the steroid pattern, preferentially produced by the human digestion apparatus, is found in zones III and VII. According to similar findings in Amazonian anthrosols [50], these data reveal an elevated input of human faeces in the shell midden. The shell midden also has a high content of benzene polycarboxylic acids (BPCAs), which serve as markers for black carbon, the residue of incomplete biomass combustion [45], [46]. The average black carbon content in Units III-VII is about 2.3 times greater than in the paleosol (Table 2) and its contribution to organic matter increases with depth. However, the content of black carbon relative to organic matter is higher in the paleosol than in the mound. Sediment multi-element analysis (Table 3) shows a sharp difference in the element assemblage between the paleosol and the midden due to the relative amounts of P, Ca, Al and Si; and between units I and units III–VII mainly due to the relative amounts of shell derived carbonates. The highest values of P are found at the bottom of the profile (unit VII), which coincides with the lowest values of Ca.


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)

Steroid inventory of SM1.Single steroid abundance is expressed as percentage of total steroid amount. Cholesterol, ß-stigmasterol and b-Sitosterol occur in meat and plant tissues, while coprostanol, epicoprostanol and ß-coprostan mostly result from the digestion process of omnivores (for method details and IUPAC names see Text S1).
© Copyright Policy
Related In: Results  -  Collection

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

pone-0072746-g008: Steroid inventory of SM1.Single steroid abundance is expressed as percentage of total steroid amount. Cholesterol, ß-stigmasterol and b-Sitosterol occur in meat and plant tissues, while coprostanol, epicoprostanol and ß-coprostan mostly result from the digestion process of omnivores (for method details and IUPAC names see Text S1).
Mentions: The analysis of steroids as specific markers for faeces points to omnivore sources, with coprostanol, a biomarker for human presence [50]–[53], dominating the main steroid fraction in the SM1 profile (Fig. 7, 8). Significant enrichment of coprostanol within the steroid pattern, preferentially produced by the human digestion apparatus, is found in zones III and VII. According to similar findings in Amazonian anthrosols [50], these data reveal an elevated input of human faeces in the shell midden. The shell midden also has a high content of benzene polycarboxylic acids (BPCAs), which serve as markers for black carbon, the residue of incomplete biomass combustion [45], [46]. The average black carbon content in Units III-VII is about 2.3 times greater than in the paleosol (Table 2) and its contribution to organic matter increases with depth. However, the content of black carbon relative to organic matter is higher in the paleosol than in the mound. Sediment multi-element analysis (Table 3) shows a sharp difference in the element assemblage between the paleosol and the midden due to the relative amounts of P, Ca, Al and Si; and between units I and units III–VII mainly due to the relative amounts of shell derived carbonates. The highest values of P are found at the bottom of the profile (unit VII), which coincides with the lowest values of Ca.

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