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From Los Tapiales to Cuncaicha: Terminal Pleistocene humans in America’s high-elevation western mountains

Author(s): Kurt Rademaker

Year: 2017

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Among Ruth Gruhn’s remarkable archaeological accomplishments has been the investigation of the first truly high-elevation Paleoindian sites discovered in the Americas. The open-air camps of Los Tapiales and La Piedra del Coyote in the Guatemalan highlands, located respectively at 3150 and 3300 meters above sea level, contained fluted Fishtail projectile points and rich, diverse tool and flake assemblages. Importantly, both sites were securely dated to ~12,500 cal BP, indicating early use of high-alpine meadow habitats beyond the limit where low-oxygen conditions affect human physiology. Provenance analysis of Los Tapiales obsidian indicated acquisition from sources 50-75 km distant to the east and the west, suggesting long-distance mobility or exchange between diverse ecological zones.

Since Gruhn’s seminal publications on these Guatemalan highland sites, many early sites from America’s western mountains have come to light, from the Rockies, to the Central American Sierras, to the South American Andes. Among these, Cuncaicha in the high Andes of southern Peru has provided especially high-resolution data that enrich our understanding of early highland forager adaptations. There are more similarities than differences among these early sites in the western hemisphere’s highlands, a pattern that calls for greater archaeological attention to mountain landscapes and international collaboration.

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From Los Tapiales to Cuncaicha: Terminal Pleistocene humans in America’s high-elevation western mountains. Kurt Rademaker. Presented at The 81st Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Vancouver, British Columbia. 2017 ( tDAR id: 429726)


Spatial Coverage

min long: -93.691; min lat: -56.945 ; max long: -31.113; max lat: 18.48 ;

Record Identifiers

Abstract Id(s): 17153

Arizona State University The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation National Science Foundation National Endowment for the Humanities Society for American Archaeology Archaeological Institute of America