Archaeology Magazine Archive

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

Special Introductory Offer!
online news
Ancient Mariners Found in Peru November 9, 1998
by Angela M.H. Schuster

Two campsites--Quebrada Jaguay (Jaguay Canyon) and Quebrada Tacahuay (Tacahuay Canyon)--on the south coast of Peru have yielded evidence of early maritime subsistence. At Quebrada Jaguay, a team led by Daniel H. Sandweiss of the University of Maine, Orono, recovered bits of knotted cordage, possibly the remains of fishing nets, abundant bones of fish, primarily drum, and shells of mollusks and crustaceans. At Quebrada Tacahuay, researchers led by David K. Keefer of the U.S. Geological Survey found a hearth, tools and obsidian flakes, as well as the bones of numerous fish--mostly anchovy, whose small size implies the use of nets rather than hook and line--and seabirds, including cormorants, booby, and pelican.

Two dates from the earliest level at Quebrada Jaguay are around 11,100 radiocarbon years before present (about 12,984 calendar years B.P.). Both have large margins of error, one as great as 260 years. The earliest dates from Quebrada Tacahuay are later, about 10,770 radiocarbon years B.P. (ca. 12,730 calendar years B.P.), but have lower error margins.

While the discoverers of these sites believe that they bolster the theory that the earliest Americans migrated southwards by sea rather than land, an idea put forth by archaeologist Knut Fladmark of Simon Fraser University some 40 years ago, Tom D. Dillehay of the University of Kentucky notes that these early people need not have had only one subsistence strategy. "We have good evidence of early coastal migration from sites such as an 11,000-year-old-camp discovered in 1989 at Huentelafguen, Chile," says Dillehay, "as well as evidence of inland subsistence, not only at the 12,500-year-old site of Monte Verde, Chile, but from a suite of well-dated sites in eastern Brazil and Colombia. There are simply too many different modes of adaptation to suggest that South America's first peoples selected any one strategy for survival."

Quebrada Jaguay and Quebrada Tacahuay are important because most sites of this period were inundated by the rise sea level, as much as 450 feet in the wake of the last Ice Age some 18,000 years ago. The new sites are located in headland areas where the continental shelf is narrow and drops off quickly. Such areas were not substantially impacted by rising sea level. The results of these investigations were published in the September 18, 1998 issue of Science.

© 1998 by the Archaeological Institute of America