Before Farming

Human occupation, environmental structure & the archaeofaunal record during the mid-Holocene in west-central Argentina

Before Farming (2008), 2008, (3), 1–16.

Abstract

The archaeological record of the South American mid-Holocene is currently a topic of debate among researchers studying human responses to climate change (Nuñez & Grosjean 1994; Grosjean et al 2007; Gil et al 2005). Discussion centres on the behavioural significance of a diminished or absent archaeological record across large areas of the continent at this time. Among existing hypotheses that attempt to explain this phenomenon, the most widely accepted are those that link demographic changes to climate change and its impact on regional food resources. The palaeoenvironmental record for the period between 9000 to 4000 years ago shows a marked decline in rainfall which corresponds to a decrease in archaeological site visibility generally.

In this paper we use palaeoenvironmental information, as well as radiocarbon and archaeofaunal data to explore the likely ecological stresses faced by hunter-gatherer populations and to generate some ideas about the human behavioural response to increasing aridity. The data suggest differing human response between ecological zones (mountain versus lowland) in terms of occupation intensity but, surprisingly, no major changes occurred in diet breadth and faunal procurement patterns in contrast to expectations derived from optimal foraging theory. We argue that reduced demographic pressures enabled hunter-gatherers to maintain their use of large prey in the form of guanacos.

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Gil, Adolfo

Guerci, Alejandra

Neme, Gustavo