There is widespread agreement among archeologists that most late Pleistocene and early Holocene human populations were mobile, traversing large foraging territories to meet subsistence, social, technological, and other needs. A broad array of early foraging societies practiced a mobile way of life dictated by the availability of resources and probably by social conflict. Others probably stayed for relatively long periods in resource rich habitats such as deltas and bays, riverine estuaries, and lacustrine environs; others probably aggregated socially for various reasons. In many places, changes in mobility appear to coincide with shifting climatic conditions and biotic reorganization during this period, reflecting adaptations to local subsistence opportunities and increasing population density in some areas. The vastness of unpopulated terrain and the ecological diversity of South America, especially in the Andean mountains and the Amazon basin, offered limitless options for relocation and pursuit of mobile resources.

The archaeology of the first foragers in the southern hemisphere (Figure 2.1) is best documented in the Central Andes, the southern Patagonian plains, Colombia, Peru, Chile, and eastern Brazil where dozens of sites are known (Ardila and Politis 1989; Lavallée 2000; Dillehay 2000; Figure 2.2). Far less is known about the cultural sequence in Ecuador, Bolivia, the Caribbean rim, the Amazon basin, the Paraná-Uruguay-La Plata River basin, and the canals of southern Chile where only a handful of sites have been located (Figure 2.2). To some degree, the small number of known settlements in these areas reflects the state of archaeological investigation and often low visibility, with vast regions virtually unexplored or with early sites deeply buried below alluvial sediments, invisible to the archaeologist. However, the small number of sites may also reflect the prehistoric reality, indicative of very low population densities or a reluctance to exploit certain environmental zones, such as the vast, dry altiplano plains of highland Bolivia and the forested lowlands of the northern and central tropics.


Late Pleistocene Amazon Basin North Coast Stone Tool Andean Mountain 
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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Tom D. Dillehay
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyVanderbilt UniversityNashvilleUSA

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