An Early Holocene Task Camp (~8.5 Ka Cal BP) on the Coast of the Semi-Arid North of Chile

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Introduction

Among current hypotheses about the peopling of America, the model of a coastal route, as an alternative to the 'classic' inland model, is gaining strength (Fladmark 1979; Dixon 2001; Surovell 2003; Erlandson et al. 2008). In North America, some archaeological contexts on the Pacific coast show evidence suggestive of early littoral and insular adaptations dating to the Pleistocene/Holocene transition and Early Holocene (Rick et al. 2003; Bradje & Erlandson 2006; Erlandson et al. 2007, 2008, 2009, 2011).

Evidence from coastal South America also tends to support such a hypothesis (Dillehay 2000, 2009). Archaeological research on the South American Pacific coast has revealed some of the earliest human occupation with a strong dependency on coastal resources (Llagostera 1979; Keefer et al. 1998; Sandweiss et al. 1998). This evidence dates back some 13 000 to 11 000 calendar years BP (cal BP) (Sandweiss 2003) and is well identified in numerous contexts of the South American Pacific coast. Evidence from later settlements (Stothert 1985; Sandweiss et al. 1989; Lavallee et al. 1999a, 1999b) suggests a sustained occupation of the coast, but less is known about how the inland areas became settled in their turn.

The first human occupation of the coast of north-central Chile throws light on this problem. Recent studies of settlement and subsistence patterns on the southernmost coastal area of dispersion of the Huentelauquen cultural complex (31-32[degrees] S), have made it possible to distinguish two settlement modes: in ~13 000-11 000 cal BP, a first occupation pattern along the coastal margin, with emphasis on the exploitation of marine resources (Jackson et al. 1999), and a second, later pattern ~11 000-9000 cal BP, with sites oriented facing ravines, showing emphasis on hunting activities and, to a lesser degree, on the gathering of coastal resources (Jackson & Mendez 2005). The latter sites provide temporal continuity, as do other contexts located on the coast of Chile's northern arid zone (Llagostera et al. 2000). An analogous situation can be described for coastal Ecuador (Stothert 1985) and Peru (Sandweiss et al. 1998), where the littoral archaeological record suggests continuity after the Pleistocene/Holocene transition.

The discovery of several archaeological sites on the southern coast of the semi-arid north of Chile, located near the coastline but adjacent to ravines, show contexts that seem to be part of the second settlement trend. Therefore they can be used to evaluate the regional development of the coastal settlements and their relation to other settlements with a view to revealing the alleged coastal-to-inland movement. Besides their location along the ravines, these sites show an emphasis on bifacial tool production directed to hunting activities. Therefore, they could have functioned as camps oriented to areas where potential prey gathered.

Within the framework of this problem, we carried out a study on one of these sites (LV 531), where there was both bifacial production for lithic projectile point manufacture and evidence for sea mollusk consumption. The archaeological record suggests that the site corresponds to a locality repeatedly occupied with a series of task-specific camps. These are discussed within the frame of the mobility and subsistence patterns of these early human groups.

Study area and palaeoenvironment

The study area is located on the coast of Choapa province (32[degrees] S.), at the south end of the semi-arid north of Chile (28-32[degrees] S), in the locality known as Pichidangui (Figure 1). The geomorphology of this zone consists of a long sandy beach delimited to the north and south by small peninsulas with rocky coastlines. The coastline shows a varied and abundant marine and littoral fauna favoured by the upwelling of deep waters enriched with the nutrients of the South Pacific. …