Light, Stable Isotopes and the Subsistence Base of Formative Cultures at Valdivia, Ecuador

  • Nikolaas J. van der Merwe
  • Julia A. Lee-Thorp
  • J. Scott Raymond


Early sedentary settlement in Ecuador made headlines among New World archaeologists in the 1950s and 1960s with the discovery of the Valdivia culture (Meggers et al. 1965). More than 6000 years old (in calibrated radiocarbonyears), exhibiting comparatively well-made, distinctively decorated ceramics, and associated with relatively large, deep sites in the tropical lowlands of South America, Valdivia was anomalous in the generally accepted cultural historical schemes of the time. Early manifestations of sedentism and ceramics were expected in highland Mexico or in the arid mountains and coast of the Central Andes; yet Valdivia antedated (and still antedates) evidence of such developments in both areas by more than 1000 years. Shortly after the discovery of Valdivia a settlement of similar age and character was excavated in the moist tropics of northern Colombia (Reichel-Dolmatoff 1965), and sedentary settlement in the upper Amazon was shown to extend back to at least the beginning of the second millennium B.C. (Lathrap 1970). Clearly, notions of cultural developments in the American tropics needed revision. The nature and antiquity of settlement has been borne out by subsequent research in all three areas. In northern Colombia the ceramic sequence has been extended to 6700 B.P. and on the lower Amazon pottery is more than a millennium older (Oyuela-Caycedo 1987, 1990; Raymond 1987; Roosevelt et al. 1991).


Carbon Isotope Nitrogen Isotope Carbon Isotope Ratio Bone Collagen Tropical Lowland 
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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 1993

Authors and Affiliations

  • Nikolaas J. van der Merwe
    • 1
    • 2
  • Julia A. Lee-Thorp
    • 2
  • J. Scott Raymond
    • 3
  1. 1.Departments of Anthropology and Earth and Planetary SciencesHarvard UniversityCambridgeUSA
  2. 2.Department of ArchaeologyUniversity of Cape TownRondeboschSouth Africa
  3. 3.Department of ArchaeologyUniversity of CalgaryCalgaryCanada

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