The 82nd Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2013)

Living on the seashore: A consideration of lifestyle among Formative Period fisherpeoples of northern Chile


1Anthropology, University of California, Merced, 2IIAM, Universidad Católica del Norte, 3Anthropology, University of Miami, 4SHESC, Arizona State University, 5Arqueología, Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino

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Recent archaeological work at three contemporaneous looted cemeteries (Michilla 2, Punta Gualaguala 1, and Punta Gualaguala 4) located north of Chile’s Mejillones Peninsula have revealed the fragmented remains of numerous individuals who lived during the Late Formative Period (AD 1-500). Here we present a study of the 32 individuals whose remains were in condition for bioarchaeological and chemical analyses. We considered a series of general health and body use indicators and conducted radiogenic strontium and stable carbon and nitrogen isotope analyses. Together these should provide a sense of the quality of life for these coastal residents.

Our results show an adult population with moderate to high enthesal remodeling scores. The few mostly complete individuals displayed low incidences of health indicators and trauma. A few non-specific stress indicators were visible, primarily osteoperiostitis. The only occurrences of trauma were two healed fractures on the cranium of a middle-aged female. Radiogenic strontium analyses of enamel from 23 individuals revealed a mostly homogenous population with a coastal origin. Carbon and nitrogen stable isotope analyses of bone from 32 individuals suggest a protein diet predominantly based on marine foodstuffs (∂15N: +21.6‰ to +27.1‰). Interestingly, there was substantial variation within sites that may reflect idiosyncratic patterns of carbohydrate consumption.

When the different data sets are combined, we see a pattern that indicates an arduous coastal lifestyle involving hunting, gathering, fishing, and deep-sea fishing. Not surprisingly, this is in line with the mortuary context, which revealed ample fishing equipment, marine mammal bones, and shells.

This research was supported by FONDECYT 1110702.

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