Date of Award

Fall 12-2022

Level of Access Assigned by Author

Open-Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Quaternary and Climate Studies


Daniel Sandweiss

Second Committee Member

Kirk Maasch

Third Committee Member

Susan deFrance


This thesis sets an initial foundation for an archaeo-ornithological approach to understanding past El Niño events on the coast of Peru and the use of avifaunal remains as proxies for ecological conditions. Although faunal remains from archaeological sites do not provide exact representations of past environmental conditions, and bird remains can be especially challenging environmental indicators, their presence does reflect decisions made by human occupants in response to environment. Additionally, zooarchaeological data offer a reflection of past animal availability and use, much of which is at least in part determined by environmental conditions. Here I examine the extent to which El Niño phenomena could influence avifaunal resources and the effect this would have had on the subsistence practices of Andean coastal communities through time. Taking a human-ecodynamics approach, I also examine ethnohistoric records, including published oral histories, and early Peruvian visual culture (e.g., ceramics, geoglyphs, regalia, textiles) to further guide my understanding of the relationship between coastal societies and their local ecology. Based on the apparent human-Aves ecodynamics between coastal Peruvian societies and local avifauna, I propose that marine avifauna could have acted as sentinels for ecological conditions, offering coastal occupants a warning of impending change. In some cases, avian responses to El Niño (e.g., massive die off, mass migrations, nest abandonment) could have presented a boon to industrious hunter-gatherers, a topic I also explore. Further paleoenvironmental research potential lies in determining the effects that different varieties or “flavors” of El Niño Southern Oscillation (Central Pacific, Coastal) would have posed on early subsistence practices and adaptation strategies. My findings suggest that birds were a consistent staple in coastal diets. Fluctuations in the abundance of birds present at each site might be due to a variety of conditions. Connections could nevertheless be drawn between El Niño and avifaunal presence in coastal faunal assemblages, warranting further examination of these sentinel organisms.