Hundreds of thousands of artifacts dating back as early as 15,000 years have been found at the ancient mound site of Huaca Prieta in Peru. The relics include elaborate hand-woven baskets and tools for deep-sea fishing, which would have necessitated the use of boats that could withstand rough waters, as well as evidence of large-scaled agricultural production and trade. The findings indicate that an early civilization existed in the region which was much more advanced than originally thought.
"The mounds of artifacts retrieved from Huaca Prieta include food remains, stone tools and other cultural features such as ornate baskets and textiles, which really raise questions about the pace of the development of early humans in that region and their level of knowledge and the technology they used to exploit resources from both the land and the sea," James M. Adovasio, Ph.D., D.Sc., co-author of the study and archaeologist at Florida Atlantic University told Phys.org . “These strings of events that we have uncovered demonstrate that these people had a remarkable capacity to utilize different types of food resources, which led to a larger society size and everything that goes along with it such as the emergence of bureaucracy and highly organized religion.”
Huaca Prieta mound situated on the Sangamon Terrace (buried terrace surface with Late Pleistocene and Early Holocene cultural deposits is indicated by dotted line below the mound).Credit: ScienceAdvances
Digging Deeper Brings Finds
An archaeologist first excavated the Huaca Prieta site in the 1940s, but in recent years a team led by Vanderbilt University anthropologist Tom D. Dillehay has done further excavations and analyses that have revealed a lot more about the people who lived there.
The abstract of the researchers’ paper in ScienceAdvances states:
Simple pebble tools, ephemeral cultural features, and the remains of maritime and terrestrial foods are present in undisturbed Late Pleistocene and Early Holocene deposits underneath a large human-made mound at Huaca Prieta and nearby sites on the Pacific coast of northern Peru. Radiocarbon ages indicate an intermittent human presence dated between ~15,000 and 8000 calendar years ago before the mound was built. The absence of fishhooks, harpoons, and bifacial stone tools suggests that technologies of gathering, trapping, clubbing, and exchange were used primarily to procure food resources along the shoreline and in estuarine wetlands and distant mountains.
The scrapers and cutting tools were made from stone and had one workable face. ( Credit: Tom Dillehay)
The stone artifacts are characteristic of other parts of South America in the far distant past. The scientists found traces of avocado, beans and possibly squash and chili pepper that were cultivated. This suggests humans transported them.
The new conclusions suggest diverse food production strategies and knowledge of economic organization, the paper states. That said, the technologies were simple and the researchers concluded campsites were only temporary.
The archaeologists studied two sites—Huaca Prieta and Paredones in the lower Chicama Valley on Peru’s north coast. Some of the food remnants, stone tools and artifacts were buried underneath 7 (23 feet) to 30 meters (98.5 feet) of human-made mound deposits.
Excavations were up to 30 meters (98.5 feet) deep under the Huaca Prieta mound. ( Credit: Tom Dillehay)
They found that the sites were occupied intermittently between 15,000 years ago and 10,000 years ago. Some of the mounds do not have evidence of human culture in them for hundreds of years at a time.
Basket and mat remnants show they were made from various materials, including reeds that basket makers still use today. Some of the baskets were made from cotton and were dyed with the oldest known dyes in the Americas. ( Credit: Florida Atlantic University's Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute)
The researchers’ final report will be released in a book this coming summer from the University of Texas Press. Professors Adovasio and Dillehay intend to return to Peru in the coming year to examine more baskets. Some of the baskets rank among the oldest known in the Americas, Phys.org states.
Top image: The site of Huaca Prieta, also called Chicama, in northern coastal Peru, located at the mouth of the Chicama River ( Nephicode)