Date of Award


Level of Access Assigned by Author

Campus-Only Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Quaternary and Climate Studies


Daniel H. Sandweiss

Second Committee Member

Gregory Zaro

Third Committee Member

Daniel F. Belknap


During the mid-Holocene Epoch on the north coast of Peru, environmental and cultural change of severe proportions occurred. Transitions between climatic regimes, shoreline progradation, and the extent of ecological zones took place at the same time that human societies became increasingly complex. To better understand the relationships between these transitions, a wide lens is used to view the evolution of the landscape on which these populations lived. The Salinas de Chao paleoembayment is an ideal area to investigate prehistoric humans’ relationships with their changing environments because little human activity has occurred in the region since its mid-Holocene occupation. Twenty-one Preceramic to Early Intermediate Period archaeological sites (ca. 7,000- 2,800 cal BP) are located on a raised wave-cut seacliff overlooking a mid-Holocene paleoshoreline and a salina (or salt flat) that stretches ca. 4 km to the present coastline. Here, paleoenvironmental reconstruction of the Salinas de Chao area is accomplished using archaeological and geologic data. These data are combined in order to analyze the area’s paleoenvironmental evolution in relation to shoreline progradation, prehistoric settlement patterns throughout time and changes in the landscape such as ancient brackish wetland habitats not present in the region today. Furthermore, a new model for shoreline progradation (starting ca. 4,100 cal BP) that describes the infilling of the paleoembayment is developed, which is roughly correlated to increases in El Nino frequency between 5,800-2,800 cal BP and global sea-level stabilization between 7,000- 5,600 cal BP. The local geology is also analyzed for potential sources of freshwater springs, a critical issue in arid environments. This work demonstrates how Preceramic populations responded to rapid shoreline progradation and increased aridity, as local watertables fell and dunes expanded across the landscape. Evidence for these findings comes from a multidisciplinary approach including the use of ground-penetrating radar, sedimentary, archaeological, malacological, botanical, and radiocarbon data. These data allow for the critical transitions in both the cultural and environmental history of this region to be identified, facilitating a discussion on the correlations between these histories.


As of 2002, Degree of Master of Science (MS) Quaternary and Climate Studies published under the auspices of the Climate Change Institute.

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