Evolutionary Adaptations and Population History of the Atacama Desert

Part of: Society for American Archaeology 82nd Annual Meeting, Vancouver, BC (2017)

The Atacama Desert, despite its extreme aridity, scarce water sources, and hostile climate, has been inhabited by humans since the terminal Pleistocene. Encompassing a range of ecological zones from southern Peru and northern Chile, and extending into the altiplano region of Chile, Bolivia and Argentina, human and cultural remains from the Atacama Desert provide critical data that enrich our understanding of the initial peopling of South America and events that occurred thereafter. Because of Atacama’s unique ecology, humans who occupied this region faced challenges that differ from other areas of South America. Thus, this symposium encompasses archaeological and biological research focused on evolutionary adaptations and population movement over 10,000 years of human prehistory in the Atacama Desert and the areas surrounding it. The papers in this symposium present new methodological approaches and theoretical interpretations, including analyses of ancient DNA, dental calculus, isotopes, and 3D morphometrics. Our symposium features a team of international and interdisciplinary researchers whose collaborative goal is directed toward new interpretations on biocultural evolution, foodways, health/disease, and social complexity among prehistoric human lifeways in the Atacama Desert and adjacent regions of South America.

Resources Inside This Collection (Viewing 1-16 of 16)

  • Documents (16)

  • Alterations in South American Oral Health Through the Colonial Period: The Story of Ancient DNA Trapped Within Dental Calculus (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Laura Weyrich. Keith Dobney. Alan Cooper.

    Interpreting the evolutionary history of bacterial communities within the human body (microbiota) is key to understanding the origin of many modern diseases. The link between humans and their microbiota can also be exploited to examine and track the extent and severity of human adaptation to the environment and impacts on health. Here, we utilize a shotgun sequencing approach to examine ancient DNA preserved within dental calculus from a wide range of ancient South Americans (n=162)....

  • Andean Population Dynamics Revealed by Genome-wide Data from the High Elevation Cuncaicha Rock Shelter (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Cosimo Posth. Thiseas Lamnidis. Stephan Schiffels. Kurt Rademaker. Johannes Krause.

    Present-day Andean human populations harbor a relatively high genetic diversity but a minimal population structure and differentiation among them. Moreover, mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) and Y chromosome studies on pre-contact human remains suggest that both modern and ancient Andean populations derive from a single ancestral origin. However, nuclear ancient DNA (aDNA) data from the Andes in particular and South America in general are still too scarce to fully address questions on genetic continuity...

  • Assessing the Population History of the Atacama Desert using 3D Geometric Morphometric Methods (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Susan Kuzminsky. Mark Hubbe.

    Many scholarly debates in South American archaeology have centered on the discovery and cranial morphology of the earliest inhabitants known as Paleoamericans that predate 8,000 years BP. Although it was initially hypothesized that cranial differences between Paleoamericans and later populations may reflect distinct biological populations or migration patterns that occurred after the initial colonization of South America, recent genetic data show biological continuity throughout the Holocene in...

  • A Bioarchaeological Survey of Skeletal Tuberculosis in Prehistoric Southern Peru (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Allisen Dahlstedt. Jane Buikstra.

    Recent studies of pre-Columbian Mycobacterium tuberculosis complex (MTC) genomes identify pinnipeds as a source of human tuberculosis in South America (Bos et al. 2014). These results raise questions regarding the timing of this zoonotic transfer and the subsequent human host adaptation and dissemination of Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Here we present a survey of skeletal tuberculosis throughout the Osmore Drainage of southern Peru, where the pinniped to human "jump" had occurred by ~AD 1000....

  • Biocultural Evolution of the Oral Complex in Coastal Atacama and the Interplay of Selection, Plasticity, and Population Histories (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only James Watson. Ivan Munoz. Bernardo Arriaza.

    Indigenous groups have inhabited and exploited the coastal valleys of the Atacama Desert since Paleoindian times. Contact with the altiplano began early on but marine-based diets were eventually supplemented by agricultural adaptations as influence turned to population movement over time. We propose that the oral complex was likely subject to some degree of selection early in the sequence in response to dietary demands, but would have been relaxed as diet diversified and softened. This trend...

  • Challenges of Using NGS to Detect T. cruzi in Human Remains from Pre-Columbian South America (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Kelly Harkins. Laura Weyrich. Lars Fehren-Schmitz.

    The trypanosomatid parasites are responsible for devastating human disease worldwide. In the Americas, Trypanosoma cruzi is the causative agent of Chagas Disease (CD), the most epidemic zoonosis in Latin America today. The clinical manifestations of CD, however, have been recognized in archaeological human remains from South America as early as 9,000 years ago. We present preliminary results of a project that applies paleogenomic methods, including targeted enrichment and next-generation...

  • Diet and Adaptations in a High Altitude Rockshelter of Southern Peru, Based on Stable Carbon and Nitrogen Isotopes (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Sophia Haller Von Hallerstein. Dorothée Drucker. Katerina Harvati. Kurt Rademaker.

    We present the results of stable carbon and nitrogen isotope analyses made on well-preserved collagen of four Early and one Middle Holocene adult humans together with coeval faunal remains of Cuncaicha rockshelter in the Peruvian puna to determine paleodiet. In addition, we reconstruct important aspects of the ecology of the Pucuncho Basin, in which Cuncaicha is located, using new as well as already available and secured values for stable carbon and nitrogen of archaeological and modern fauna...

  • Dressing the Child: An Analysis of Camisas at Chiribaya Alta (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Emily Schach. Jane Buikstra.

    Children learn and communicate their social identities through dress. Thus, examinations of ancient clothing can reveal the process of socialization in past societies. The presence of child and adult sized camisas in the graves of Chiribaya children suggest that these items communicate more than a child’s living identities. Here, we analyze camisas at Chiribaya Alta to examine the process of socialization and the role of death as a potential rite of passage. The site of Chiribaya Alta, an elite...

  • Early Fishing on the Atacama Desert Coast of Southern Peru (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Daniel Sandweiss.

    The coastal Atacama Desert in southern Peru has some of the oldest and best documented fishing sites in western South America, including Terminal Pleistocene through Early Holocene components at Quebrada Jaguay and Quebrada Tacahuay and Early to Middle Holocene components at the Ring Site and Quebrada de los Burros. These sites have offered insight into the antiquity and variability of the early fishing tradition, the antiquity and features of coast-highland interaction, and coastal settlement...

  • Human Coprolite Diet Reconstruction Confirms Wetland Resource Use in the Coast of the Atacama Desert, 6580 cal. yr BP (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Karl Reinhard. Luz Ramirez de Bryson. Nicole Searcey. Isabel Teixeira-Santos. Calogero Santoro.

    It has been proposed that Chinchorro coastal people along the Atacama Desert in northern Chile had marginal access to plant food, a position refuted by recent scholars. The older perspective comes from bone chemistry analyses which showed a nearly exclusive reliance on marine animal resources. Newer analyses of mummy gut contents shows a substantial reliance on wetland plant resources, especially sedge rhizomes and seeds. Therefore, existing analyses present very different ideas of Chinchorro...

  • Human Responses to Holocene Aridization South of the Atacama Desert (31° to 32° S), the Meaning of Differences in Landscape Use (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only César Méndez. Antonio Maldonado. Andrés Troncoso. Amalia Nuevo Delaunay. Sebastían Grasset.

    The geographical band between 31°-32° S, from the Pacific to the Andes, lies in the southernmost part of the Semi-Arid North of Chile, south of the Atacama Desert. Multidisciplinary research to the north and south of the Choapa River’s mouth is uneven, thereby in need of new data for understanding the relative intensity of the human traces across the landscape and the human interactions with environmental changes. Currently, the combined pollen records in the coast and highlands indicate arid...

  • The Impact of Climate Dynamics and Cultural Change on the Demography and Population Structure of Pre-Columbian Populations in the Atacama (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Lars Fehren-Schmitz. Kelly Harkins.

    Archaeological studies in the Central Andes have pointed at the temporal coincidence of climatic fluctuations and episodes of cultural transition throughout the pre-Columbian period. Although most scholars explain the connection between environmental and cultural changes by the impact of climatic alterations on the capacities of the ecosystems inhabited by pre-Columbian cultures, direct evidence for assumed demographic consequences has been missing so far. Desert margin areas, as we find them at...

  • Mobility Among Hunter-Gatherers in the Central Andean Highlands During the Early-Middle Holocene: GIS Models from Sr and O isotopic Analyses (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Döbereiner Chala-Aldana. Hervé Bocherens. Christopher Miller. Kurt Rademaker.

    Cuncaicha rock shelter (4480 masl) is one of the highest hunter-gatherer occupation sites found so far in the Americas; it brings new insights about human adaptation to extreme living conditions and subsistence strategies within the Peruvian puna. This research intends to define the possible type of occupation and mobility patterns at the site during the Early and Middle Holocene through Sr and O isotopic analyses in dental enamel of the human individuals and faunal remains found buried in this...

  • Paleodiet in the Atacama Desert (Arica, Chile) and Andean Highlands (Ayacucho Basin, Peru) Using Stable Isotope Analyses of Dental Calculus (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Simon Poulson. Susan C. Kuzminsky. G. Richard Scott. Tiffiny A. Tung.

    Long-considered a nuisance, dental calculus has recently enjoyed attention as a potentially useful alternative biomaterial for a variety of anthropological applications, including stable isotope analysis as a technique to study paleodiet. Carbon and nitrogen stable isotopes of dental calculus have been measured for populations near Arica, Chile in the Atacama Desert (Archaic-Late Intermediate period), and post-Wari (Late Intermediate Period) populations from the Ayacucho Basin, Peru in the...

  • Tuberculosis in Past Peruvian Populations (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Kirsten Bos. Åshild J. Vågene. Jane Buikstra. Anne C. Stone. Johannes Krause.

    Due to its arid climate the Atacama Desert has an exceptional preservation of ancient biomolecules. In an archaeological context, this allows for genetic analyses of both past human populations and the infectious diseases they experienced. Pre-contact Peruvian cultures are among the first New World populations to show skeletal indications of tuberculosis, and recent molecular analyses have revealed that three individuals were afflicted with a rare zoonotic form of the disease acquired from...

  • Unearthing the Deep Roots of the Long-term Human History and Environmental Interaction in the Atacama Desert (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Calogero Santoro. José M Capriles. Claudio Latorre. Eugenia Gayo. Ricardo De Pol Holz.

    New archaeological evidence demonstrates that by 12,800 years ago, bands of hunter-gatherers effectively occupied the hyperarid basins of the Atacama Desert. The selection of the habitats they exploited and the location of their activity areas were constrained by specific environmental circumstances that coincide with positive moisture anomalies that provided abundant resources. The distributions and properties of which were likely managed by these people to create complex landscapes using...