Hidden in middens: New clues of earliest known Bolivian Amazon humans

August 28, 2013 by Sunanda Creagh, The Conversation
Detailed excavations of a Bolivian large mound known locally as Isla del Tesoro (Treasure Island) have revealed evidence of humans living in the region much earlier than first thought. Credit: Lombardo U, Szabo K, Capriles JM, May J-H, Amelung W, et al. (2013)

Researchers have discovered the earliest evidence yet of humans living in the Bolivian Amazon, putting the first known human habitation of the region at about 8000 years earlier than was previously thought.

The new finding, which centres on data gathered from middens in the often-flooded Bolivian grasslands, puts the date of the earliest known human habitation of the area at 10,400 years ago.

The study, published today in the journal PLOS ONE, involved excavation of three middens in the Bolivian Amazon that revealed layers of freshwater snail shells, animal bones and charcoal topped by newer layers containing human bones, bone tools and pottery.

Katherine Szabo, Principal Research Fellow at the University of Wollongong and a co-author of the new study, said that the finding showed these early human groups were able to adapt to difficult environments.

"It was a watery habitat, which has a major effect on the distribution of animals they would be hunting. Any humans groups living there necessarily would have to be really mobile as well," she said.

"Because it's such a difficult location, no one thought there would be early human occupation there. Other sites where evidence of human occupation had been found were close to coasts, river banks, forests and places with plentiful resources."

"What this is telling us about early inhabitants of South America is that they were very much more flexible and adaptable than perhaps we have given them credit for in the past."

The humans who helped build these middens lived in a time of changing climate conditions.

"This was just as the last ice age was ending, at a time of environmental flux and there was starting to be a lot more water on landscapes," said Dr Szabo.

"People were moving into new areas and the resources they relied on were changing."

The new find was an exciting insight into the time line of humans in South America, but "the prehistory of the Americas is still quite recent compared to Asia or Africa," she said.

Maciej Henneberg, Professor of Anthropological and Comparative Anatomy at University of Adelaide, said the new find was very interesting.

"The methods used are innovative and allow detection of archaeological sites previously difficult to notice," said Professor Henneberg, who was not involved in the study.

Explore further: 1,500-year-old landfill discovered in USVI

More information: dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0072746

Related Stories

1,500-year-old landfill discovered in USVI

February 13, 2013

(AP)—Crews renovating a public square in the U.S. Virgin Islands have discovered a 1,500-year-old landfill stuffed with shells, bones and pottery fragments.

Snails signal a humid Mediterranean

January 30, 2013

An international team of researchers has shown that old wives' tales that snails can tell us about the weather should not be dismissed too hastily.

Ancient trash heaps gave rise to Everglades tree islands

March 21, 2011

Garbage mounds left by prehistoric humans might have driven the formation of many of the Florida Everglades' tree islands, distinctive havens of exceptional ecological richness in the sprawling marsh that are today threatened ...

Rare animal-shaped mounds discovered in Peru

March 29, 2012

(PhysOrg.com) -- For more than a century and a half, scientists and tourists have visited massive animal-shaped mounds, such as Serpent Mound in Ohio, created by the indigenous people of North America. But few animal effigy ...

Recommended for you

The oldest plesiosaur was a strong swimmer

December 14, 2017

Plesiosaurs were especially effective swimmers. These long extinct "paddle saurians" propelled themselves through the oceans by employing "underwater flight"—similar to sea turtles and penguins. Paleontologist from the ...

Averaging the wisdom of crowds

December 12, 2017

The best decisions are made on the basis of the average of various estimates, as confirmed by the research of Dennie van Dolder and Martijn van den Assem, scientists at VU Amsterdam. Using data from Holland Casino promotional ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Oct 11, 2013
Humans are meant to be nomadic. A sedentary life developed with agriculture. There was no such thing as estate property until then.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.