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We examined stable isotopes (δ13C, δ15N, and δ34S) of camelid, cavid, and cervid remains from Upanca, an archaeological site located in the Southern Nasca Region on the south coast of Peru. Occupation at the site began in the Middle Archaic (around 3200–3000 BC) and continued through the Nasca period (AD 100–650). Remains predating 2500 BC show low δ13C and δ15N values, whereas remains after this time show increasing and especially more variable isotopic values. We interpret this pattern as marking both a process of agricultural intensification and camelid husbandry diversification. Agricultural intensification began first with C3 plants in fertilized fields, beginning around 2200 cal BC, followed by an increasing use of C4 plants (maize, kiwicha, or both), particularly after 800 cal BC. By the beginning of the first millennium, people were using a diverse range of strategies to raise llamas and alpacas, including feeding them wild or cultivated C3 plants, feeding them cultivated C4 plant foods, mixing C3 and C4 plant foods, foddering some in natural coastal environments, and acquiring still other camelids by hunting wild stocks (guanaco, vicuña). Data also suggest that cavids were consuming at least some C4 products after 1000 cal BC and that the use of C4 plants increased over time.
This article emerged as the human species collectively have been experiencing the worst global pandemic in a century. With a long view of the ecological, economic, social, and political factors that promote the emergence and spread of infectious disease, archaeologists are well positioned to examine the antecedents of the present crisis. In this article, we bring together a variety of perspectives on the issues surrounding the emergence, spread, and effects of disease in both the Americas and Afro-Eurasian contexts. Recognizing that human populations most severely impacted by COVID-19 are typically descendants of marginalized groups, we investigate pre- and postcontact disease vectors among Indigenous and Black communities in North America, outlining the systemic impacts of diseases and the conditions that exacerbate their spread. We look at how material culture both reflects and changes as a result of social transformations brought about by disease, the insights that paleopathology provides about the ancient human condition, and the impacts of ancient globalization on the spread of disease worldwide. By understanding the differential effects of past epidemics on diverse communities and contributing to more equitable sociopolitical agendas, archaeology can play a key role in helping to pursue a more just future.
We test the antiquity of a dietary life history model on Tutuila, American Samoa. Stable carbon and nitrogen isotopes in serial, age-adjusted samples of first and third molars reveal isotopic biographies of 16 individuals from five late Holocene (200–1100 RCYBP) sites. Combining this with bone collagen from a larger sample of individuals, we document a patterned dietary life history on the island. Between ages zero and two years, infants show elevated δ15N values, consistent with a diet rich in breast milk. In early childhood (two–10 years), individuals shift to a diet with higher δ13C values, suggesting greater marine protein intake. Around age 10 years, males shift to a more terrestrially focused diet, while females retain a higher marine signature. After ~20 years of age, males and females are more similar in diet, with a greater contribution from terrestrial resources. We argue that these shifts reflect diet-marked social transitions in life histories, especially social status and eating order within households, as predicted from the ethnographic model. When contextualized with other archaeological data, such as mortuary patterns and social organization, the isotopic biographic approach facilitates examination of diet-linked social transitions of individuals as they aged within ancient societies.
Few items in the archaeological record capture the imagination more than human heads separated from their bodies. Such items are sometimes assumed to indicate warfare practices, where “trophy heads” display power and fighting prowess. Other times, they are interpreted as representing ancestor veneration. Isolated crania are not uncommon in the Early period (ca. 4500–2500 B.P.) in Central California. Some anthropologists interpret them as trophy heads, but isotopie analyses at CA-CCO-548 suggest an alternative interpretation. Strontium isotope analyses on one modified cranium produced values consistent with local individuals, and both headless burials and people buried with extra skulls overlap in carbon and nitrogen isotopes. Further, teeth from two individuals who were buried with extra skulls suggest both were weaned at early ages (before age 2), much earlier than other individuals at the site. Together with contextual information, we argue that the isotopie data are more consistent with the hypothesis that extra skulls and headless burials represent ancestor veneration rather than trophies, shedding new light on Early-period societies in Central California.
The Dawson seriation of Nasca ceramics has long been assumed to be an accurate marker of temporal changes in the prehispanic south coast of Peru. We test this assumption by directly dating a sample of sherds using Optically Stimulated Luminescence (OSL). Our results suggest that while some phases of the seriation are valid chronological markers, others appear to be the result of factors other than time. We discuss the implications of these results and call for additional studies of ceramics using luminescence dating
Guided by modern miners of the region the authors track down pre-Inca mining sites in the Southern Nasca Region of Peru. In the hinterlands away from both modern and ancient roads they find a surprising number of small sites serving the pre-Inca industry, principally in the Nasca period. Drawing analogies from modern practice they are able to distinguish the ancient sites dedicated to exploration, extraction or production.
Based on a simple model of lithic procurement, reduction, and use, we generate predictions for patterns in source diversity and average distance-to-source measurements for flaked stone assemblages left behind by small-scale and residentially mobile populations. We apply this model to geochemical data from obsidian artifacts from three regions in western North America. As predicted, results show markedly different patterns in the geochemical composition of small flakes, large flakes, and formal tools. While small flakes and tools tend to have greater source diversity and are on average farther from their original source, the large flake assemblage is composed of fewer and closer sources. These results suggest that a failure to include very late stage reduction (e.g., pressure flakes) and microdebitage in characterization studies may bias interpretations about the extent of residential mobility and/or trade patterns because more distant sources will be underrepresented.
“Brownware” pottery technologies became widely used in the Great Basin around 600 years ago. A significant increase in the use of small seeds within the subsistence economy took place about the same time. I suggest that these two events are linked, that people consciously chose to focus on seeds because they could be privatized, that is, they could be individually owned and were not subject to unrestricted sharing. Pots were an integral component of this process because they could be individually made and owned and could be used within domiciles, placing food preparation and storage out of view from others in the community. Privatization of a staple food resource may have been a response to increased population size and, hence, the number of freeloaders, new village kinship organizations, and a desire to create surplus on the part of aggrandizers.
The study of artifact standardization is an important line of archaeological inquiry that continues to be plagued by the lack of an independent scale that would indicate what a highly variable or highly standardized assemblage should look like. Related to this problem is the absence of a robust statistical technique for comparing variation between different kinds of assemblages. This paper addresses these issues. The Weber fraction for line-length estimation describes the minimum difference that humans can perceive through unaided visual inspection. This value is used to derive a constant for the coefficient of variation (CV = 1.7 percent) that represents the highest degree of standardization attainable through manual human production of artifacts. Random data are used to define a second constant for the coefficient of variation that represents variation expected when production is random (CV = 57.7 percent). These two constants can be used to assess the degree of standardization in artifact assemblages regardless of kind. Our analysis further demonstrates that CV is an excellent measure of standardization and provides a robust statistical technique for comparing standardization in samples of artifacts.
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