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Eating Fish in the Driest Desert in the World: Osteological and Biogeochemical Analyses of Human Skeletal Remains from the San Salvador Cemetery, North Chile

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 January 2017

Christina Torres-Rouff
Affiliation:
Instituto de Investigaciones Arqueológicas y Museo. Universidad Católica del Norte, Calle Gustavo Le Paige #380, San Pedro de Atacama, 141-0000, Chile; and Department of Anthropology, Colorado College (ctorresrouff@coloradocollege.edu)
William J. Pestle
Affiliation:
Department of Oral Medicine and Diagnostic Sciences (MC838), College of Dentistry Room 569E, University of Illinois, Chicago, 801 S. Paulina, Chicago, IL 60612 (wpestl2@uic.edu)
Francisco Gallardo
Affiliation:
Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino, Bandera 361, Santiago, Chile (fgallardo@museoprecolom-bino.cl)

Abstract

The San Salvador River in northern Chile is a tributary of the Loa, the only river that traverses the Atacama Desert from the mountains to the Pacific. Recent investigations along the San Salvador River revealed the presence of a Formative period village site and associated cemetery approximately 110 km inland from the Pacific Ocean. Bioarchaeological and biogeochemical analyses conducted on human skeletal remains recovered from the San Salvador Cemetery allowed us to better understand the site’s role as an intermediary for coast/interior relations during the Middle Formative (500 B.C.–A.D. 100). Evidence from material culture and human remains at San Salvador suggests that this population was involved in exchange networks that united the oases of the Atacama Desert with the Pacific Ocean. Isotopic data support this notion, as the population demonstrates great variability in both the protein (marine and terrestrial) and carbohydrate components of their diet. During this period, communal economies produced surpluses used in a network of exchange for foods, prestige goods, and ideas. These ties were not coincidental but, rather, part of a regional economic structure that remains only partly explored.

El Río San Salvador del norte de Chile es un afluente del Río Loa, el único curso de agua dulce que atraviesa el desierto de Atacama desde las montañas hasta el Pacífico. Recientes investigaciones en San Salvador revelaron la presencia de una aldea y un cementerio del periodo Formativo emplazados a unos 110 km. de la costa del Pacifico. Análisis bioantropológicos y biogeoquímicos llevados a cabo en restos óseos humanos recuperados del cementerio permitieron comprender el funcionamiento del sitio como intermediario en las relaciones entre la costa y el interior en el Formativo Medio (500 a.C.–100 d.C). La evidencia de la cultura material y de los restos humanos en San Salvador indica que esta población estuvo involucrada en las redes de intercambio que ligaban los oasis del desierto de Atacama y el Océano Pacífico. Los datos isotópicos apoyan esto, pues la población muestra una gran variabilidad tanto en el consumo de proteína (marina y terrestre) como en los componentes de carbohidratos en su dieta. Durante este período las economías comunales produjeron excedentes utilizados en una red de intercambio de alimentos, bienes de prestigio e ideas. Estos lazos no fueron circunstanciales, sino parte de una estructura económica regional que hasta ahora ha sido parcialmente explorada.

Type
Reports
Copyright
Copyright © 2012 by the Society for American Archaeology

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