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Re-evaluating the resource potential of lomas fog oasis environments for Preceramic hunter-gatherers under past ENSO modes on the south coast of Peru

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Beresford-Jones, D 
Pullen, AG 
Whaley, OQ 
Moat, J 
Chauca, G 


Lomas – ephemeral seasonal oases sustained by ocean fogs – were critical to ancient human ecology on the desert Pacific coast of Peru: one of humanity’s few independent hearths of agriculture and “pristine” civilisation. The role of climate change since the Late Pleistocene in determining productivity and extent of past lomas ecosystems has been much debated.
Here we reassess the resource potential of the poorly studied lomas of the south coast of Peru during the long Middle Pre-ceramic period (c. 8,000 – 4,500 BP): a period critical in the transition to agriculture, the onset of modern El Niño Southern Oscillation (‘ENSO’) conditions, and eustatic sea-level rise and stabilisation and beach progradation. Our method combines vegetation survey and herbarium collection with archaeological survey and excavation to make inferences about both Preceramic hunter-gatherer ecology and the changed palaeoenvironments in which it took place. Our analysis of newly discovered archaeological sites – and their resource context – show how lomas formations defined human ecology until the end of the Middle Preceramic Period, thereby corroborating recent reconstructions of ENSO history based on other data.
Together, these suggest that a five millennia period of significantly colder seas on the south coast induced conditions of abundance and seasonal predictability in lomas and maritime ecosystems, that enabled Middle Preceramic hunter-gatherers to reduce mobility by settling in strategic locations at the confluence of multiple eco-zones at the river estuaries. Here the foundations of agriculture lay in a Broad Spectrum Revolution that unfolded, not through population pressure in deteriorating environments, but rather as an outcome of resource abundance.



Lomas palaeoenvironments, Holocene, ENSO, Hunter-gatherers, Origins of agriculture, South coast Peru

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Quaternary Science Reviews

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Elsevier BV
We thank the Ministerio de Cultural del Perú for granting permission for archaeological fieldwork (Resolución Directoral Nº 933-2012-DGPC-VMPCIC/MC, 19 December 2012 and Nº 386-2014-DGPA-VMPCIC/MC, 22 August 2014) and the export of samples for dating; Don Alberto Benavides Ganoza and the people of Samaca for facilitating fieldwork; the Leverhulme Trust (grant number RPG-117) and the late Don Alberto Benavides de la Quintana (grant number RG69428) and the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research for funding Cambridge University’s One River Archaeological Project, and the NERC Radiocarbon facility (grant number NF/2013/2/2) for funding radiocarbon dating. We also thank the Servicio Nacional Forestal y de Fauna Silvestre (SERFOR) and the Servicio Nacional de Áreas Naturales Protegidas por el Estado (SERNANP), Peru for permits for the Proyecto Kew Perú to carry out botanical and ecological survey, and Delsy Trujillo, Eric Ramírez, Consuelo Borda and other participants of the Proyecto Kew Perú: Conservación, Restauración de Hábitats y Medios de Vida Útiles, Ica, Peru.