In the ongoing discourse among anthropologists and archaeologists about the emergence of archery in the Americas and its societal implications, a recent study led by a University of California, Davis, anthropologist sheds new light on this enigma. Published in Quaternary International, the research focuses on the Lake Titicaca Basin in the Andes mountains.
Contrary to previous beliefs that placed the advent of archery in the Andes around 3,000 years ago, this study, analyzing 1,179 projectile points, suggests that the rise of archery technology in the region dates back to approximately 5,000 years ago. This revelation challenges existing timelines and prompts a reevaluation of the technological and societal developments in the ancient Andes.
The adoption of bow-and-arrow technology appears to align with two significant trends: the expansion of exchange networks and the increasing tendency for people to establish villages. This correlation suggests a dynamic interplay between technological innovation and social dynamics, offering a fresh perspective on how societies in the Andes evolved during ancient times.
Luis Flores-Blanco, an anthropology doctoral student and the corresponding author of the paper, emphasizes the groundbreaking nature of the research. By presenting a substantial number of artifacts from a vast South American area, the study provides a unique opportunity to observe societal changes throughout the Andes in antiquity. This approach represents a departure from traditional investigations of social complexity, often centered on monumental architecture and ceramics, by delving into the quantitative analysis of stone tools, specifically projectile points.
Typically associated with foraging communities, projectile points take center stage in this study as indicators of social complexity. The researchers argue that this shift in focus allows for a more nuanced understanding of the intricate relationship between technology, social structures, and the daily lives of ancient Andean peoples.
Pooling from 10,000 years of history
In a comprehensive study, the research team meticulously examined over a thousand projectile points spanning a remarkable 10,000-year period. Originating from the Lake Titicaca Basin, specifically the Ilave and Ramis valleys, located southwest and northwest of the basin, each projectile point became a key artifact in unraveling the mysteries of ancient Andean civilizations.
Luis Flores-Blanco highlighted the significance of Lake Titicaca, situated at an elevation of 12,500 feet, as one of the highest plateau lands explored and conquered by humans. This region witnessed extraordinary achievements, including the domestication of plants like the potato, leaving a lasting nutritional legacy. It served as the heartland for major Andean civilizations, with the Tiwanaku and even the Inca Empire considering it a mythical place of origin. Flores-Blanco emphasized the study's ambition to delve into the roots of the Andean civilization, going beyond the well-known narratives.
The analysis involved meticulous measurements of each projectile's length, width, thickness, and weight, alongside considering their dates of origin. Notably, the team observed a size shift in projectile points around 5,000 years ago, during the Terminal Archaic period. Older projectile points were larger, suggesting a shift in technology preference from spear-throwing to bow-and-arrow, without entirely abandoning traditional methods.
Comparisons between projectile data and archaeological findings related to settlement sizes, raw material availability, and cranial trauma added depth to the study. During the Terminal Archaic period, despite an increase in settlement sizes, the total number of settlement sites decreased, and there were no signs of social violence, even with access to exotic raw materials. This intriguing observation led the researchers to hypothesize that the adoption of bow-and-arrow technology might have played a role in maintaining and fostering adherence to emerging social norms.
The study's co-authors, including researchers from the National University of San Marcos, UC Merced, University of South Florida, and University of Wyoming, collaborated to bring a multidimensional perspective to the evolving dynamics of ancient Andean societies. The findings not only contribute to refining the timeline of technological advancements but also offer insights into how these innovations were intertwined with social structures and the development of new institutions in the ancient Andes.
Source: UC Davis