Before Farming

Use of rockshelters by carnivores in the Puna. Implications for hunter-gatherer archaeology

Before Farming (2005), 2005, (2), 1–25.

Abstract

This paper deals with mammalian carnivore dens in rockshelters in the Puna of Andean South America. This is analysed in relation to the potential overlap of interest in topographic resources with human predators and the use of these refuges by both agents. Different Puna areas have been surveyed, and eighteen modern taphonomic sites have been studied in the light of local carnivore ecology. Here the results concerning the use of space by carnivores are presented, together with predictions regarding the differential distribution of the taphonomic processes they generate. The aim is to assess which archaeological sites are most prone to have been affected by these processes.

Once proximity to critical resources is satisfied – especially water and predictable sources of hunting and scavenging represented by human residences – den distribution seems to be a function, at least partially, of rockshelter availability. Where rockshelters abound, more archaeological sites in these loci can be expected to have been affected, although the rate of occupation by carnivores through time at each site need not be high. A recurrent factor is rockshelter size: small shelters tend to be preferentially selected by carnivores, implying little interest in the kinds of shelters commonly selected by the hunter-gatherers of the region, at least as a destination of food transport. Finally, an account is given of the factors that can introduce variation in these expectations.

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Mondini, Mariana