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A Prehistory of South America

A Prehistory of South America: Ancient Cultural Diversity on the Least Known Continent

Jerry D. Moore
Copyright Date: 2014
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  • Book Info
    A Prehistory of South America
    Book Description:

    A Prehistory of South Americais an overview of the ancient and historic native cultures of the entire continent of South America based on the most recent archaeological investigations. This accessible, clearly written text is designed to engage undergraduate and beginning graduate students in anthropology.For more than 12,000 years, South American cultures ranged from mobile hunters and gatherers to rulers and residents of colossal cities. In the process, native South American societies made advancements in agriculture and economic systems and created great works of art-in pottery, textiles, precious metals, and stone-that still awe the modern eye. Organized in broad chronological periods,A Prehistory of South Americaexplores these diverse human achievements, emphasizing the many adaptations of peoples from a continent-wide perspective. Moore examines the archaeologies of societies across South America, from the arid deserts of the Pacific coast and the frigid Andean highlands to the humid lowlands of the Amazon Basin and the fjords of Patagonia and beyond.Illustrated in full color and suitable for an educated general reader interested in the Precolumbian peoples of South America,A Prehistory of South Americais a long overdue addition to the literature on South American archaeology.

    eISBN: 978-1-60732-333-4
    Subjects: Sociology, Archaeology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-xi)
  3. Preface: A Golden Age of South American Archaeology
    (pp. xiii-xxi)
  4. 1 Archaeology in South America: A Brief Historical Overview
    (pp. 1-27)

    Current archaeological knowledge builds on several centuries of interest in the antiquities and monuments of South America, although interest motivated by very different goals and practices. The first European descriptions of South American objects and sites were the by-products of conquest. Soldiers accompanying Francisco Pizarro’s expeditions in 1532–33—such as Miguel de Estete and Pedro Pizarro—described the towns and monuments of native kingdoms, in the process providing valuable accounts of the Inca Empire. The soldier-chronicler Pedro de Cieza, who arrived in America as a fourteen-year-old in the 1530s to seek the riches of the New World, was also...

  5. 2 The Brave New World: Environmental Diversity in South America
    (pp. 29-61)

    South America is characterized by diversity, as measured on every conceivable dimension.

    From the Isthmus of Panama to Tierra del Fuego, the continent stretches between the latitudes of 12° N and 55° S and the longitudes of 35° and 80° W. It encompasses more than 17.8 million km² (6.87 million square miles), approximately one-eighth of the Earth’s dry land. Of all the continents on the planet, South America has the greatest latitudinal reach, extending from the humid tropics to the frigid, windswept headlands of the Straits of Magellan.

    South America is similarly varied in terms of biological diversity.¹ Conservation International...

  6. 3 The Last Ancient Homeland: The Peopling of South America
    (pp. 63-91)

    In 1927, when a team of excavators at a site near Folsom, New Mexico, discovered an in situ projectile point between the ribs of an extinct Pleistocene species of American buffalo (Bison antiquus), the implication was obvious: humans had arrived in the Americas thousands of years ago.¹ The Folsom discovery led to specific inferences (figure 3.2).

    First, the projectile point was obviously anartifact: the elegant triangular point exhibited a complex pattern of flake removal and shaping, dominated by the longitudinal channel or flute, all evidence of human action. Natural processes could not have produced such an object. Second, the...

  7. 4 Archaic Adaptations
    (pp. 93-129)

    The termArchaicimplies more than the wordarchaic: “antiquated,” “surviving from an earlier period,” or “characteristic of the past.” For archaeologists working in the Americas, the Archaic refers to the period after the initial, Paleoindian occupation of the continents and before the development of settled agricultural villages.¹

    The term became widespread during the 1950s, when archaeologists Gordon Willey and Phillip Phillips presented a broad scheme for understanding the development of prehistoric societies in the New World.² In an impressive work of scholarship that synthesized archaeological data from across the Americas, Willey and Phillips defined the Archaic “stage” as characterized...

  8. 5 Origins and Consequences of Agriculture in South America
    (pp. 131-179)

    The origin of agriculture has long been an important domain of archaeological research. Ever since the British archaeologist V. Gordon Childe famously defined “the Neolithic Revolution”—the shift from hunting and gathering to agriculture that was akin to the Industrial Revolution in its transformative consequences—archaeologists have investigated the tempo, causes, and consequences of ancient agriculture. Given the durability of hunting and gathering as a way of life for more than 90 percent of the human experience, the relatively recent emergence of agriculture over the last 10,000 years demands an explanation. Further, there is increasing evidence that the transition to...

  9. 6 Social Complexities: Part I
    (pp. 181-217)

    This chapter and chapter 7 present a continental overview of archaeological cases relating to the multifaceted topic “the origins of social complexity.” This topic has a long history in social theory, from Enlightenment philosophers such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Thomas Hobbes to nineteenth-century social thinkers such as Karl Marx and Emile Durkheim, twentieth-century social scientists such as Talcott Parsons and Anthony Giddens, and more recent analyses dealing with resiliency, chaos theory, agent-based modeling, and other approaches to complex systems. Despite these centuries of theoretical ponderings, many of the questions remain the same or unanswered.

    If, as Rousseau famously declared in...

  10. 7 Social Complexities: Part II
    (pp. 219-259)

    This chapter continues the discussion of the emergence of social complexity begun in chapter 6 but shifts to an examination of three regions: the coast of Peru, the Central Andean highlands, and the Titicaca Basin (figure 7.2).

    As discussed in chapter 1, these regions have been the focus of a great deal of archaeological research over the past 150 years; nonetheless, much remains unknown, and some topics are subjects of heated archaeological debate. The basic issues are not minor quibbles. Is agriculture essential for permanent settlements and complex societies? When did the first cities develop in South America? Are monumental...

  11. 8 Regional Florescences
    (pp. 261-307)

    As noted repeatedly, the prehistory of South America is characterized by diversity, and that continued to be the case even after the development of sedentism and agricultural economies. There is a tendency to view South American prehistory as if the development of agrarian states and empires was inevitable and universal. Nothing could be further from the truth: a broad array of small-scale societies based on hunting and gathering, gardening, or shifting agriculture existed over much of the continent when Europeans arrived. Many of those societies had developed remarkably enduring cultures.

    It is also sometimes assumed that because South America was...

  12. 9 Age of States and Empires
    (pp. 309-365)

    When Spaniards invaded western South America in the early sixteenth century, they encountered one of the most impressive civilizations in the ancient world: the Inca Empire. Francisco Pizarro and his men captured the Inca king, Atahualpa, and began the process of conquest. Although the fall of the Inca Empire was not immediate and the consequences of conquest still reverberate across the Andes, the Spanish conquest and colonization of the Incas was a transformative clash between worlds, with multiple layers of consequence (discussed further in chapters 10 and 11).

    Because of the enormous impact of the Inca Empire, both on the...

  13. 10 Twilight of Prehistory
    (pp. 367-415)

    The last five centuries of South American prehistory were marked by fundamentally different social and political experiences across the continent, a previously unseen disparity in the scales of social life (figure 10.2). For example, along the coast of Tierra del Fuego, groups of mobile hunters and gatherers—the immediate ancestors of the historic Yámana—lived on marine resources, with seals, fish, shellfish, and other seafood comprising from 55 percent to 95 percent of the diet, supplemented by guanaco and other terrestrial resources (see chapter 8).¹ Their adaptive strategy was remarkably successful and stable, with only minor variations in artifact types...

  14. 11 Empire of the Four Quarters
    (pp. 417-469)

    Between approximately AD 1400 and 1535, a regional chiefdom in the southern Peruvian Andes expanded throughout western South America and in the process created the largest state in the pre-Columbian Americas. Its members called their empireTawantinsuyu, which means the “four (tawa) portions (suyu) that have become one (ntin).” They are also known as the Incas.¹

    Since previous chapters have discussed multiple prehistoric societies and their cultural achievements, one might wonder “why devote an entire chapter to the Incas?” There are several reasons. First, the Incas represent a social and political achievement several orders of magnitude larger than any other...

  15. 12 After Prehistory
    (pp. 471-496)

    Within a decade of Columbus’s voyages to the Indies, Europe’s attempt to understand the native people of South America began, an effort deeply entangled with the goals of conquest, subjugation, and domination. It was neither a dispassionate intellectual quest nor a particularly well-informed one. The 1494 papal edict, The Treaty of Tordesillas, established a line between Spanish and Portuguese colonial interests, one that ceded eastern South America and Africa to Portugal and much of the Americas to Spain. The expansion of Spain and Portugal into South America, tentatively begun with Columbus’s third voyage in 1498, increased in tempo in 1510...

  16. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 497-498)
  17. Illustration Credits
    (pp. 499-510)
  18. Index
    (pp. 511-530)