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Volume 63 / Social Sciences

ANTHROPOLOGY: ARCHAEOLOGY: South America


BETTY J. MEGGERS, Department of Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution
TOM D. DILLEHAY, Distinguished Professor of Anthropology, Vanderbilt University
JOHN W. JANUSEK, Associate Professor of Anthropology, Vanderbilt University

So much has been happening in South American archeology recently that we would be remiss in failing to explore where the discipline has been and where it is going. I initiate this task by casting a glance backward to the introduction to HLAS 61 by Betty Meggers, who stated that two major themes characterized South American archeology between 1995 and 2000. These were studies of the first Americans and their adaptations to the changing environments of the continent and the presence of precolumbian civilizations in Amazonia. Today, both themes remain active and important areas of research. Several new early sites have been studied and new complex, hybrid genealogies of early human migration and population dynamics have been developed, especially in the area of bioanthropology. Much of this latter work has been advanced by the Brazilians, under the guidance of Walter Neves and his associates in São Paulo (items #bi2007000967# and #bi2007001081#). These studies support prior notions that early cultural diversity existed in South America (item #bi2007000960#) in late Pleistocene times and that the Clovis-first model does not explain the peopling of South America. Although several new site discoveries continue to point to the early cultural diversity of South America, the earliest accepted date remains ca. 13,000 BP. Civilizations in Amazonia also have received increased attention, with the discovery of early ring villages in northern Uruguay (item #bi2007001288#) and later monumental causeways and agricultural ring villages in the Xingu region of Brazil (item #bi2007001076#). A reemphasized research theme is early complexity, whether located in the central Andes (item #bi2007003869#) or the eastern tropical lowlands (item #bi2007003884#). Several reports serve to strengthen a re-emerging concept of early cities in Peru, especially at the late Preceramic coastal settlement of Caral in Peru (item #bi2007001270#). Much recent work also has begun to transform our understanding of precolumbian South America, showing that far-flung regions assumed to have been inhabited by a sparse population of hunters and gatherers did in fact host organized societies and cultures (items #bi2007000952#, #bi2007001284#, and #bi2005006535#).

The past five years have witnessed a greater emphasis on theory-building by South Americanists, usually a younger generation of scholars led by Argentines and Colombians who meet on a regular basis to unite various academic institutions across the continent (items #bi2007000971# and #bi2007000972#). Although no new school of theoretical thought has yet developed from these meetings, they have fostered productive criticisms of the utility of applying conceptual models, largely developed in the US and Europe, to South American data. Tucked into many scattered publications are formulations that today we can call, at least by some scholars, social theory. Perhaps it is more accurate to speak of these as social models (items #bi2007001290# and #bi2007001256#), reserving the term social theory for contexts in which archeologists attempt to relate their interpretations to a broader understanding of human behavior in general.

There are developments in model-building that have begun to relate the Andes and South America to wider archeological issues, especially in historical archeology (items #bi2007001240# and #bi2005006533#), social inequality (item #bi2005005397#), political identity (items #bi2005000041# and #bi2007001201#), climatic stress and human response (item #bi 00002385#), and empire-building (items #bi2007000901# and #bi2007000956#). There are countless specific research themes developed in the past few years, ranging from small-group and household interactions to the use of mediated agency in precolumbian societies and the meaning of agency and social memory (item #bi2007000962# and HLAS 62:353), from diet choice among hunters-gatherers to the operation of corporate networks that trade goods around the Andes and peripheral areas (see HLAS 61:291), and from the design and meaning of specific artifacts to the functioning of an interconnected power grid of diasporas (item #bi2005006531#). It is my contention that to explain these diverse phenomena, numerous additional studies are required on an inter-regional level of analysis, varying in level and content in the years to come.

Current research also shows that South American archeology has progressed far beyond the stage of finding new sites and building new chronologies to developing interpretive models of potential utility and applying them critically to archeological phenomena in various temporal and spatial settings (item #bi2007001202#). Although not mentioned above, a subtle underlying trend anticipated in the future is more comparative research across countries (item #bi2007001217#). Several new publications unequivocally demonstrate that when local archeological records are compared with others and are studied from an interdisciplinary perspective, archeology is in an advantageous position to build and evaluate both social theory and cultural history (items #bi2007000953# and #bi2007001280#). The archeological record is by far the best record scholars have for studying the processes that create variability throughout time and space, in pre-industrial South American societies.

When preparing this commentary, hard choices were made in distilling innumerable archeological facts into an account of what has been published in recent years. The interest here is how archeologists have learned more about the general social and cultural conditions of the South American past, not so much the many details about artifact sequences and site types that fill many technical reports. Every effort has been made to include some of these descriptive reports when they present new and important regional syntheses (items #bi2007001088#, #bi2007000987#, and #bi2005006532#). Further, as this section covers the continent, the temporal and geographic coverage is uneven: the countries where many more archeologists are working, such as Brazil, Peru, and Argentina, receive more attention than others. [TDD]

ANDEAN REGION

The past ten years have witnessed an explosion of archeological research in and publication on the South American Andes. Several geographical and thematic trends have predominated in this era of Andean archeology.

Certain geographical regions of the Central Andes have been the focus of particularly intensive research over the past decade. Public attention following the discovery of royal burials at Sipan in 1987 has continued to stimulate research on Peru's north coast, with particular emphasis on Early Intermediate Period Moche (items #bi2007003943#, #bi2004003424#, #bi2007001250#, #bi2007001263#, #bi2007004326#, #bi2007004335#, and #bi2007004338#) and Late Intermediate Period Chimu cultures (items #bi2007003037#, #bi2007000245#, #bi2007003048#, and #bi2007004008#). Work at the primary Moche center of Cerro Blanco and affiliated sites is shedding light on this culture's massive monumental structures (item #bi2007003942#), vast urban populations, and the role of dynamic human-environmental interactions in fostering Moche's impressive hydraulic systems and, ultimately, sociopolitical collapse (items #bi2007003025#, #bi2007003026#, and #bi2007004304#). One important debate centers on whether Moche was an integrated Archaic state or a volatile federation of multiple coastal polities.

Straddling Peru, Bolivia, and northern Chile, the Lake Titicaca basin and its immediate environs have formed another key focus of recent archeological interest. Much recent and ongoing research seeks to understand early complexity here and the rise, geopolitical impact, and collapse of the Tiwanaku state (items #bi2007003862#, #bi2007001066#, #bi2007003876#, #bi2007003889#, and #bi2007004321#). Key debates center on whether Tiwanaku was tightly centralized or politically diversified (items #bi2007001059#, #bi2007003857#, and #bi2007001062#) and over the role of environmental deterioration in Tiwanaku's ultimate cultural disintegration (items #bi2007003880#, #bi2001000243#, and #bi2007004502#). Other foci of intensive ongoing research include Early Intermediate Nasca culture on Peru's south coast (items #bi2007004346# and #bi2007004349#) and Pachacamac on its central coast (items #bi2007003031#, #bi2007003036#, #bi2007003041#, and #bi2007004333#). Currently increasing in scope and intensity, studies in these areas promise to change our views of coastal Andean cultural development over the coming decade.

Filling a curious gap in Andean knowledge, the Inca have at last become a major focus of archeological research. Complementing and in some cases integrating historical documentation, recent research programs investigate the processes of imperial expansion in and around the Cuzco heartland (items #bi2004003423#, #bi2007001225#, and #bi2007003017#) as well as intricate imperial-local interactions in the provinces and on the frontiers (items #bi2007003853#, #bi2007003874#, #bi2007003877#, #bi2007001065#, #bi2007001260#, #bi2007003936#, #bi2007004308#, and #bi2007004318#). One intensive project has begun to tackle the code of the quipu, an intricate Inca recording system of knotted and color-coded strings (item #bi2007004339# and HLAS 62:372), and one general text concisely synthesizes knowledge to date on the Inca (see HLAS 62:317).

Andean archeologists, like those working in other world regions, have adopted a number of specialized techniques to enhance our understanding of the prehispanic past. Faunal (items #bi2007003886#, #bi2004002209#, and #bi2007003018#) and archeobotanical analyses have shed light on changing relations between humans and animal and plant species. The question regarding the antiquity of maize in formative period Ecuador continues to foster lively debate (items #bi2007003928#, #bi2003003719#, and #bi2007003931#). Geoarcheology (items #bi2007004312#, #bi2007004004#, and #bi2007004505#) and the use of Geographical Information Systems analyses (item #bi2007004504#) offer new approaches to understanding human-landscape relations. Most notable is burgeoning bioanthropological research throughout the Central Andes (items #bi2007003858#, #bi2007003867#, #bi2007003878#, #bi2007003893#, #bi2007003913#, #bi2007003914#, #bi2007003916#, #bi2007003932#, #bi2007003939#, #bi2007003016#, #bi2007004001#, #bi2007004320#, #bi2007004256#, and #bi2007004337#). Recent projects include studies of nonmetric traits, chemical isotopes, and DNA taken from human remains to answer questions ranging from migration and population movement to diet, health, and genetic distance among populations.

Bolstering the introduction of specialized techniques and novel methodologies are innovative collaborative agendas and approaches. Andeanists have been summarily criticized for uncritically using historical and ethnographic research to inform archeological interpretations of the distant past, and of failing to incorporate comparative analyses or address broader conceptual frameworks in their research and publication. Traditional emphases gave rise to an "isolationist" approach to Andean prehispanic history, and an overall emphasis on lo Andino that presented past Andean cultural history as static and unique. Coupled with an array of new techniques, many recent studies actively seek to rectify this situation through comparative, interdisciplinary, or theoretically informed investigations. Some find evidence for intensive social and economic interaction across vast regions (item #bi2007003935#), and others detail nuances of shifting settlement histories, residential organization, or craft production in a particular site or region (item #bi2007001278#). Several general texts incorporate conceptual approaches that emphasize the significance of religious iconography, ritual practices, social identities, or landscape symbolism in the emergence of complexity and the coalescence and collapse of past Andean societies (items #bi2005004474#, #bi2007003861#, #bi2007000978#, #bi2007003869#, #bi2007003887#, #bi2005000041#, #bi2007003933#, #bi2007004005#, #bi2007004010#, #bi2003004923#, #bi2007001263#, and #bi2007004341#). Such investigations are helping move Central Andean studies to the forefront of global archeological inquiry. [JWJ]

BRAZIL AND THE GUIANAS

Although contract archeology has been increasing significantly, publication of the data has been limited. Exceptions include survey powerline transects along the west side of the Tocantins (items #bi2007001424#, #bi2007001425#, and #bi2007001423#) and in Amapá (item #bi2007001414#), both regions previously unknown. Academic, commercial, ethnical, and legal aspects of contract projects were discussed during six round-tables sponsored by the Sociedade de Arqueologia Brasileira (item #bi2007001434#).

Rock art, long a popular topic, is represented in well-illustrated volumes on Amazonia (item #bi2006000751#), Piauí (item #bi2007001502#), and Lagoa Santa (item #bi2007001503#), and formalized by the creation of the Associação Brasileira de Arte Rupestre (item #bi2007001427#). Research on sambaquis, another traditional theme, is moving from excavation to interpretation of social organization, settlement pattern, and subsistence (item #bi2007001510#).

Human skeletal remains, never a significant focus of investigation in the past, are attracting attention because the Lagoa Santa region possesses the largest concentration of the premongoloid physical type that represents the initial immigrants to the Americas (item #bi2007001436#). Paleoindian sites lacking human remains continue to produce new information on subsistence, lithic technology, and adaptation to climatic and environmental change during the Pleistocene- Holocene transition, stimulated by more detailed evidence supplied by paleoecologists (items #bi2007001413# and #bi2005007983#).

The debate over the existence of dense permanent precolumbian settlements in Amazonia has been intensified by dissenting interpretations of the origin and significance of the patches of anthropogenic black soil of varying extent along the banks of the Amazonian rivers. In addition to isolated articles, two comprehensive volumes include articles by soil experts, chemists, biologists, mineralogists, agriculturalists, nutrient specialists, anthropologists, and botanists, who provide detailed descriptions of their composition, interpretations of their origin, and estimations of their agricultural potential (items #bi2007001501# and #bi2007001437#).


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