Human Impacts on Ancient Marine Ecosystems: A Global Perspective

By Torben C. Rick; Jon M. Erlandson | Go to book overview

6
Ancient Fisheries and Marine Ecology
of Coastal Peru

Elizabeth J. Reitz, C. Fred T. Andrus, and Daniel H. Sandweiss

RECENT RESEARCH, EXEMPLIFIED by chapters in this volume, documents the profound impact of people on marine fisheries and ecology in many areas (e.g., Lauwerier and Plug 2004; Pauly 1995; Pauly and Christensen 1995; Pauly et al. 1998, 2000). Although we do not disagree with evidence for the human role in precipitating some environmental changes, the Peruvian case suggests that in some instances evidence for the impact of ancient fisheries on marine ecology is subtle and should be evaluated in the context of other environmental forces. Climate models, zooarchaeology, and stable isotopes highlight the antiquity of marine resource use in coastal Peru, the importance of the sea as the primary source of animal protein in the human diet throughout the Early and Middle Holocene, and the role of oceanic and atmospheric dynamics in the resilience of this ecosystem in the face of human fishing pressure.

Peru has one of the longest archaeological fishery records in the Americas. Exploitation of marine invertebrates and vertebrates began during the Terminal Pleistocene (e.g., Sandweiss et al. 1998) and continues today. Such a record is also found in Chile and Ecuador (e.g., Jerardino et al. 1992; Llagostera 1979, 1992; though see Núñez et al. 1994; Reitz and Masucci 2004; True 1975). In contrast with regions in which human fishing strategies altered marine ecosystems, multiple lines of evidence suggest that the biotic effects of natural variability in oceanic and atmospheric forces moderated anthropogenic effects in Peru. The region is characterized by changes in the frequency of El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) which influence marine and terrestrial productivity in complex but significant ways. ENSO itself operates in the presence of tremendous productivity supported by the Peru Current upwelling system. This productivity does not appear to have been severely affected by fishing pressure until the twentieth century. Even now, some argue that natural, ENSOcreated variability damages the fishery as much as does industrial fishing methods, perhaps more so (e.g., Barber and Chavez 1977, 1983, 1986; Chavez et al. 2003). Thus, the impact of ancient fisheries on the marine ecosystems of Peru must be considered in the context of oceanic and atmospheric forcing, as well as human behavior. In this chapter, the environmental background of Peru’s marine

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