From the Pacific to the tropical forests: Networks of social interaction in the Atacama Desert, late in the Pleistocene

Calogero M. Santoro, Eugenia M. Gayo, José M. Capriles, Marcelo M. Rivadeneira, Katherine A. Herrera, Valentina Mandakovic, Mónica Rallo, Jason A. Rech, Bárbara Cases, Luis Briones, Laura Olguín, Daniela Valenzuela, Luis A. Borrero, Paula C. Ugalde, Francisco Rothhammer, Claudio Latorre, Paul Szpak

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18 Scopus citations


The social groups that initially inhabited the hyper arid core of the Atacama Desert of northern Chile during the late Pleistocene integrated a wide range of local, regional and supra regional goods and ideas for their social reproduction as suggested by the archaeological evidence contained in several open camps in Pampa del Tamarugal (PdT). Local resources for maintaining their every-day life, included stone raw material, wood, plant and animal fibers, game, and fresh water acquired within a radius of -30 km (ca. 1-2 days journey). At a regional scale, some goods were introduced from the Pacific coast (60-80 km to the west, ca. 3-4 days journey), including elongated rounded cobbles used as hammer stones in lithic production, and shells, especially from non-edible species of mollusks. From the Andes (ranging 80-150 km to the east, ca. 5-8 days of journey), they obtained camelid fiber, obsidian and a high-quality chalcedony, in addition to sharing knowledge on projectile point designs (Patapatane and Tuina type forms). Pieces of wood of a tropical forest tree species (Ceiba spp.) from the east Andean lowlands (600 km away, ca. 30 days of journey) were also brought to the PdT. While local goods were procured by the circulation of people within the PdT, the small number of foreign items would have been acquired through some sort of exchange networks that integrated dispersed local communities throughout several ecosystems. These networks may have been a key factor behind the success exhibited by these early hunter-gatherers in the hyper arid ecosystems of the Atacama Desert at the end of the Pleistocene. Different lines of archaeological evidence including open camps, workshop-quarries, lithic artifacts, archaeofaunal remains, plant and animal fibers and textiles, archaeobotanical remains, and paleoecological data show that people of the PdT managed a wide range of cultural items from the Pacific coast, the Andean highland and the tropical forest, that were integrated with resources gathered locally within the socio-cultural systems established by the end of the Pleistocene. These results are interpreted as material expressions of multi-scalar networking for resource management and other social material and immaterial requirements, which in other words, means that these people were actively connected to regional (coastal and highland), and supra-regional (trans-Andean) exchange networks from and out of the PdT.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)5-25
Number of pages21
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Anthropology
  • Archaeology


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