Project Period

June 1, 2012-May 31, 2013

Level of Access

Open-Access Report

Grant Number

1208748

Submission Date

10-27-2013

Abstract

Under the direction of Dr. Daniel Sandweiss, Mr. Kurt Rademaker will collect data for his doctoral dissertation research. His project focuses on determining the timing of early human occupation in the Andes Mountains. Human settlement of Earth's high-altitude mountains and plateaus is among the most recent of our species' bio-geographic expansions. Current anthropological models emphasize the physiographic and biological challenges inherent to these extreme environments to explain a lack of pre-11,000 year-old archaeological evidence above 3500 m elevation in the Andes and on the high Tibetan Plateau. However few archaeological studies targeting hunter-gatherer sites have been conducted in these areas.

This interdisciplinary project's primary objectives are to better understand the timing, environmental setting, and adaptations involved in human settlement of the high Andes of southern Peru. Rademaker's investigations so far have led to the discovery of early archaeological sites in the Pucuncho Basin, a wetland oasis ringed by glaciated volcanoes and situated at ~4500 m (~14,760 ft) elevation. One of these sites, Cuncaicha rockshelter, has yielded preliminary radiocarbon dates that indicate an initial settlement of this high-altitude area between 12,400 and 11,800 years ago. These dates establish Cuncaicha as one of the oldest known directly-dated archaeological sites in the Andes Mountains and the highest ice-age site yet discovered anywhere in the world.

The final laboratory phase of this dissertation project, to be funded by NSF, will significantly strengthen the preliminary chronological data from Cuncaicha shelter and provide information on the development of local habitats important to Andean animals and people for successful colonization of high-altitude zones. Rademaker will obtain additional radiocarbon dates for the Cuncaicha rockshelter site and the nearby Rio Blanco geologic section. These archaeological and paleoecologic data will be directly comparable with local glacial geologic records, and these comparisons will shed light on links between late ice-age climatic change, the formation of Andean habitats, and early human settlement of extreme high-altitude environments.

This project will have several broad impacts. By conducting pretreatment of samples at the University of Arizona accelerator mass spectrometry lab, Rademaker will receive valuable training in archaeological scientific methodology. Completion of this dissertation project will yield numerous peer-reviewed journal publications and ultimately lead to publication of an edited volume for a more general audience. The project team has given, and will continue to give, guest lectures at Peruvian and North American universities, in addition to presenting scientific results at professional meetings at home and abroad. Since 2005 this project has provided limited temporary economic benefits to some local inhabitants of the Pucuncho Basin who have assisted in surveys and excavation and provided related support for the project team. The team has brought medicine, vitamins, and educational materials for the school children in Pucuncho's three villages and worked to instill a conservation ethic about archaeological remains in the region. Continued scientific work in the Pucuncho area, which will build upon this Ph.D. dissertation project, will undoubtedly reinforce this ethic and yield additional valuable information on climatic change, ecology, and human prehistory.

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