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Generalized foragers –probably accompanied by dogs - colonized most of Americas by 10,000 BC (Paleoindian), followed by broadly defined Archaic period, which is generally defined as pre-agricultural cultural groups, although often with plants in some stage of domestication in their economies

  • Early Archaic (9500-7000 BC): residentially stable hunting and gathering band society that seasonally occupied base camps; coincides with environmental change in early Holocene (follows Paleoindian)
  • Middle Archaic (7000-5000 BC): plant and animal communities known today generally fairly well established; generalized resource exploitation strategy, which included the hunting of a variety of animals and the gathering of wild plants, such as nuts, fruits, berries, and seeds, but with increased sedentism and more specialized economies, such as intensive shell-fishing.
  • Late Archaic (5000-1000 BC): increasing regional differentiation, sedentism, trade, and an expanded dietary inventory that included domesticated plants and fully committed agricultural communities in some areas (Mesoamerica, Andes, and, perhaps, Amazon).
  • Unlike much of Asia and Europe, there was no suite of early “founder crops” that constituted a Neolithic package to be spread by colonizing village farmers. Full-time, sedentary farming tended to be a very late economic strategy in most areas, although each geographic region in North, Middle (Meso), and South America had unique cultural trajectory, including a wide range of domesticated plants and a few animals.

Broad-spectrum revolution


Tehuacan Valley Caves, Central Mexico (R. MacNeish)

  • Long Sequence 10,000-1000 BC - shift from mobile h/g societies to sedentary farming villages
  • Shift from micro-band settlements (residential camps) to macro-band settlements (base camps)
  • ca. 5000-3000 BC first domesticates (squash, maize, beans, peppers)
  • “Mesoamerican equivalent of the Natufian”
  • ca. 2-1500 BC first fully settled farming villages (in contrast to Near East where domesticates and settled village life seem to occur at about the same time)

Richard “Scotty” MacNeish &

Tehuacan Valley Mexico


The Tehuacan Caves:

Coxcatlan & Abejas

the archaic in mexico ca 9500 2500 bc was characterized primarily by nomadic bands of foragers
“The Archaic in Mexico (ca. 9500-2500 BC) was characterized primarily by nomadic bands of foragers”

Domestication as a long process not a “revolution”

Generalized foraging, focal gathering, domestication

Incipient Agriculture: cultivation (tending, transplanting, tilling, sowing)

Specialized Gardening

Domestication, field agriculture, plant breeding

guila naquitz oaxaca valley 8 750 6 670 bc
Guila Naquitz, Oaxaca Valley 8,750-6,670BC

Squash & Gourds (8000 BC)

Pinon nut

Maize (4300 BC)




Deer mandible



transition to food production at guila naquitz
Transition to Food Production at Guila Naquitz

Kent Flannery and the Broad Specrtrum Revolution; Mesoamerica seemed to fit the expectations of Boserup’s model: technology will respond to demographic stress

In Oaxaca Valley (Guila Naquitz), variability in year to year productivity, over time improvements occurred in resource extraction to buffer “bad-years”: experimentation during times of environmental stress

When the system reached a level of efficiency that could scarcely be improved, adopted agriculture

Adoption of agriculture results in fundamental changes and restarts the process (i.e., improvements in existing technology ultimately leading to technological changes)

Early agricultural villages widespread by 2000-1500 BC (early pre-classic or formative), and soon thereafter evidence of complex societies in some areas (later in semester; Chapter 16)

Teotihuacan, central Mexico

(AD 200)

north america
North America

The “trinity” or “three sisters” of Native American agricultural systems in NA and Mesomerica

Early evidence of squash and bottle gourd by c. 8000 BC

Squash present throughout much of eastern USA by 4,000 BC

Corn and beans from Mexico by 2000-1500 BC to SW USA

Added to Eastern Agricultural Complex by AD 1-400 (early dates from Ohio, Tennessee, and Illinois).

Beans by AD 1200 in eastern NA.

koster site illinois
Koster Site, Illinois
  • 1968-1979 excavations at Koster site on the Illinois River floodplain, recording 10,000 years of human occupation with at least 26 separate living horizons defined.
  • Major Archaic villages or base camps were present at Koster ca. 6600, 5000, and 3300 BC.
  • House platforms (5 x 4.5 m (16x14’) were foundations for rectangular structures with hearths; numerous storage and food preparation pits in early occupations
  • Fishing and waterfowl, as well as very diversified hunted and gathered foods, including early domesticates of Eastern Agricultural Complex
  • One of the earliest domesticated dog burials in the new world (6500 BC), millions of artifacts, and
  • Evidence of extensive trade networks that stretched from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico.
  • Mid-Holocene Climatic Optimum (ca. 6-2000 BC)
archaic roots of agriculture
Archaic Roots of Agriculture
  • Eastern Agricultural Complex (chenopod, sunflower, sumpweed, maygrass, pepo gourd, and bottle gourd)
  • Woodland Period (after ca. 1000 BC): Tobacco (Illinois and Vermont by early first millennium BC)
  • Maize by 300 BC, increasingly widespread after AD1-400; beans by AD 1200
  • Early pottery, described by Ken Sassaman in SE USA (ca. 2500 BC), important step forward in the processing and cooking of foraged foods and critical in later agricultural complexes (ceramics are traditionally uised as a defining characteristic of Woodland period in eastern North America, along with agriculture and mounds, but now known to be highly variable
watson brake and poverty point early moundbuilding cultures of eastern north america
Watson Brake and Poverty Point:Early Moundbuilding Cultures of Eastern North America

Watson Brake, LA

4000 BC

Poverty Point, LA

1700-1200 BC

western north american hunter gatherers
Western North American Hunter-Gatherers
  • Food foraging societies, including settled complex societies based on hunted, fished and collected resources, such as in coastal California and Northwest Coast of NA, continue in North America until historic times
early maritime adaptations of central andean coasts
Early Maritime Adaptations of Central Andean Coasts
  • Early maritime economies in coastal areas, from late Pleistocene times, at Quebrada Jaguay, Quebrada Tacahuay, and the Ring Site in southern Peruvian coast, including nets and floats (10,700-6500 BC)
  • Las Vegas (Ecuador), ca. 8000-4700 BC, semi-sedentary habitation site with mixed foraging economy, and early domesticated crops (squash, bottle gourd, and possible maize; directly dated to 3300-2950 BC at Loma Alta)
  • Nanchoc (Peru) has evidence of squash, peanut and cotton ca. 7000-5000 BC
  • Cotton and bottle gourd important industrial crops for fishing economies (nets and floats)
La Paloma (6800-3700 BC): fishing village that at maximum had 50 small, circular dome houses
  • Chilca (3500-2500 BC): later fishing village with small, circular houses and economy with bottle gourd, cotton, beans, and perhaps, squash and tomato
  • Maritime Foundations of Andean Civilization (M. Moseley, 1975)

Chilca (3500-2500 BC)

Caral, northern Peru (2600-2000 BC); 3,000 people

chinchorro southern peru
Chinchorro (Southern Peru)

World’s oldest mummies (6000-1700 BC)

National Geographic Magazine (March 1995: 69-81)

high andean domesticates
High Andean Domesticates

High-altitude complex (above about 8,000 ft.): quinoa, potato, other tubers

Mid-altitude complex (about 4,000-8,000 ft.): amaranth, peanut, jicama, lima and common bean, guava, squash, bottle gourd, coca, and others

Low Altitude complex (below 4,000 ft)


ca. 6-3000 BC•Beans, Chili Peppers, tubers (oca, achira), quinoa (wild cereal grass), and possibly capsicum (candidate for early maize but likely disturbed)

Guitarrero Cave, Peru

asana base camp and herding residence
Asana: Base Camp and Herding Residence
  • Rockshelter first used as temporary hide-working camp for costal groups (9500-8500 BC), then base camp for hunting band exploiting the high sierra (8500-5000 BC), then short-term base camp (5000-3800 BC) for groups more focused on plant resources (3800-3000 BC), then a pastoral camelid herding camp (3000-2300 BC).
  • Domesticated llama (from wild guanaco) and alpaca (from wild vicuña) by 5000-4000 BC
  • Also Guinea Pigs and Muscovy Ducks

Pedra Pintada (9000-8500 BC): tropical forest foragers; Taperina (5700-5000 BC) settled river foragers, with potentially earliest ceramics in Americas

Focused on root crop agriculture and arboriculture, likely very early domestication of root crops, such as manioc and sweet potato, but very little evidence from region thus far: sampling and preservation big problems

Carl Sauer (1952) proposed that tropical regions were critical hearths of early domestication, notably of root crops (vegeculture) rather than seeds

Lowland complex: manioc, tobacco, sweet potato, chili pepper, squash, cotton, papaya, avocado, pineapple, and numerous other plants, including peach palm

138 plants in some state of domestication (incipient, semi-domesticate, or full domesticate) used in Amazonia, of which 83 are native, 55 imported, and 68% are trees or woody perennials

Manioc, the most important crop (6th most important in world today) likely domesticated early 8000-7000 BC, with archaeological evidence outside of Amazonia by 6000-5000 BC

Maize appears to diffuse into Amazonia relatively late: after ca. 3,000 years ago, but uncertain


Landscape domestication and

management of non-domesticated

plants and animals and

incipient or semi-domesticates

(a topic we take up later in course)

sambaqui shell mound culture
Sambaqui (Shell Mound Culture)
  • Complex Shell-fish foragers in eastern coastal South America