4480 meters above sea level, 15º South
Cuncaicha is the highest known Pleistocene settlement in the Andes. We discovered this site in 2007 and excavated here from 2010-2015. With well-dated deposits spanning from 12,500 years ago to present day, the site is important for understanding how humans came to settle and adapt to life at high elevation.
Early inhabitants used Fishtail and stemmed projectile points made of local Alca obsidian to hunt wild camelids vicuña and guanaco, Andean deer, and rabbit-like vizcachas. They worked hides with stone scrapers, fashioned beads out of bird bone, and collected quartz crystals, chert, and plants from the plateau and occasionally from lower elevations.
Men, women, and children lived here episodically for millennia in the Pucuncho Basin. Beginning in the Early Holocene, about 9000 years ago, some of these people were buried in Cuncaicha rockshelter. Insights about early Andean diet, mobility, and adaptations - and how these patterns changed over time - are coming from physical anthropology, stable isotope, and paleogenetic studies of these skeletons.
30 meters above sea level, 15º South
Quebrada Jaguay 280, located 150 km south of Cuncaicha on the southern coast of Peru, is one of the earliest maritime sites in the Americas. The site was discovered in 1970 and excavated in the 1990s. From 13,000 to 8000 years ago, some of the earliest Americans lived on the rich bounty of the Pacific Ocean. Remains of Terminal Pleistocene structures and combustion features are preserved. Non-local petrified wood, prickly pear cactus fruit seeds, and Alca obsidian show that this coastal site was linked with others in the intermediate and high Andes, including Cuncaicha rockshelter.
Like many coastal sites, QJ-280 is under imminent threat of destruction. The site is being mined for gravel and sand and has lost nearly half of its deposits to bulldozers. Our 2017 project mapped the site with drone and ground-penetrating radar and opened new excavations for precise radiocarbon dating and studies of seasonality and site formation processes.
4150 meters above sea level, 11º South
Panaulauca is a large limestone cave located in north-central Peru just west of Chinchaycocha (Lake Junín), the second largest highland lake in Peru. The site was discovered and tested in the 1970s by Ramiro Matos and Peter Kaulicke, and excavated in the 1980s by John Rick, Katherine Moore, and others. It contains a ~4-m sequence of deposits, including stone tools and debris and the richest faunal assemblage of any hunter-gatherer site in the high Andes. The site is interpreted as a residential base camp periodically occupied by hunter-gatherers beginning in the Early Holocene, between 11,300 and 10,500 years ago.
As a clear residential function is suggested by the site's artifacts and food remains, we are studying Panaulauca to understand similarities and differences with other early residential sites in the high Andes, such as nearby Pachamachay and Cuncaicha rockshelter in southern Peru. Our team re-excavated Panaulauca in 2019 to improve the chronology and study formation processes, ahead of planned re-analysis of the site's legacy collections.
4100 meters above sea level, 15º South
Carbun-Ruan is a large rockshelter located at the edge of the Andean plateau in southern Peru. It occupies an intermediate location between Cuncaicha and Quebrada Jaguay and Pampa Colorada. Preliminary radiocarbon dates suggest this rockshelter is at least 10,000 to 7000 years old. Carbun-Ruan contains stone tools made from both high-elevation and lower-elevation raw materials. Study of these artifacts may shed light on coast-highland connections in the Early Holocene.
4300 meters above sea level, 11º South
Pachamachay is another classic limestone cave located in the Puna of Junín. The site was first identified and excavated by Ramiro Matos in 1969. Subsequent excavations by Peter Kaulicke and John Rick in the 1970s revealed a 2.5-m deep sequence securely dated to at least the Early Holocene, 11,000-9400 years ago. Like nearby Panaulauca, the site is interpreted as a residential base camp periodically occupied by hunter-gatherers beginning in the Early Holocene.
Our team re-excavated Pachamachay in 2019 to improve the chronology and study formation processes, ahead of planned re-analysis of the site's legacy collections.
300 meters above sea level, 15º South
Pampa Colorada is a colorful coastal plain west of Quebrada Jaguay. The area is rich with shell middens, stone tools, and burials, initially discovered in the 1960s. Investigations in the 2000s showed that many of these sites date from 11,000 to 8000 years ago. Petrified wood and Alca obsidian at sites indicate a long-lasting connection between this area and the high Andes.
In 2017 we rescue-excavated surface burials being exposed by wind erosion. Our team is now conducting provenance analysis of stone tools and studying human skeletons to examine local adaptations and inter-zonal connections with the highlands.