Beneath what is itself an ancient human-made earth pyramid built long ago, archaeologists have uncovered some of the earliest evidence of modern humans living in South America. Dating to around 15,000 years ago, researchers have found a whole host of artifacts documenting how these ancient people made a living and seemingly thrived along the coastal plains of Peru.
When researchers started their excavation of one of the earliest and largest pyramids in South America, located at Huaca Prieta in the north of Peru, they made a startling discovery. After digging some 31 meters (100 feet) below the structure, which is itself of great significance, they were surprised to find evidence of early modern humans living in South America, in the form of fire hearths, animal bones, and even rudimentary stone tools.
It shows how the early people were not simply passing through this region, but settling, relying on the ocean and local plants for food. While the record is not continuous, it shows that for some reason, people kept returning to the same site over the thousands of years it was occupied, and gives an astonishing insight into how these early people were living.
“The mounds of artifacts retrieved from Huaca Prieta include food remains, stone tools and other cultural features such as ornate baskets and textiles,” explained James M. Adovasio, who co-authored the study published in Science Advances. They found that the people had been eating chili peppers, squash, and avocado, as well as food taken from the sea, such as mussels, shark, and even sea lion.
The site is so complete that it also documents how the settlement, and thus society and democracy, must have developed over time. The archaeologists have uncovered hooks that they think would have been used for the deep-sea fishing of herring, which itself would have required the construction of boats that could survive rough waters.
Fragments of textiles have been discovered, as well as intricately woven baskets made from a variety of different plants, including some constructed from reeds that are still used by modern basket makers in the region. The site has even revealed the earliest use of indigo dye anywhere in the world, predating the Egyptians by at least 1,500 years.
“To make these complicated textiles and baskets indicates that there was a standardized or organized manufacturing process in place and that all of these artifacts were much fancier than they needed to be for that time period,” says Adovasio. This shows that there was some form of societal complexity when the objects were made, and potential evidence that some had higher social stature than others.