Dan and Betty Churchill Exploration Fund
Geoarchaeological Investigations along the Tambo-Ilo Coast, Peru

Louis Fortin , MS Candidate,
Climate Change Institute, University of Maine

End of year report (pdf)

Research Problem and Objectives

Since the arrival of the Spanish in the 16th century, much has been learned about the coastal desert and highland’s people of Peru.  Through the analysis of ceramics, architecture, and textiles, archaeologists have gained knowledge about the local inhabitants, how they lived and how they interacted with their environment.  However, little work has been completed in the area of stone tools just prior to Spanish contact and during the subsequent colonial period.  How were local coastal inhabitants using stone tools?  Can a stone tool typology be generated from coastal artifacts?  Were local geological sources in the area exploited or were people trading or traveling long distances to obtain such materials?  My M.S. thesis project, Geoarchaeological Investigations along the Tambo-Ilo Coast, Peru is designed to increase our current understanding of lithic tool use during the late prehispanic and early Spanish colonial periods on the southern coast of Peru.  In particular, I will investigate the role these stone tools played within the realms of trade and interaction at the archaeological site designated TI-185 and its immediate hinterland along the Tambo-Ilo coast of southern Peru (found during a summer 2006 coastal survey).

The project will take place in conjunction with Prof. Gregory Zaro’s largerproject, Human-Environment Dynamics along the Tambo-Ilo coast, in which Prof.Zaro (Anthropology Department) and Alfredo Bar (Peruvian archaeologist) willacquire archaeology permits.  My project will consist of three distinctparts.  The first part is a regional geologic survey of the area surroundingTI-185.  Prof. Martin Yates of the Geology Department will accompany meduring the survey in which we will look for a source of geologic material thatcould have been used to make the stone tools present at TI-185.  Duringthe Preceramic Period (11,000 to 4,500 years ago) long distance transportationof stone for tool use was widely present, people would travel 100s of kilometersto reach a single geologic source to obtain materials for tool manufacture.  Laterin Andean prehistory, however, stone tool importance is replaced with the emergenceof ceramics and monumental architecture.  Stone tools are no longer theonly factor in learning about ancient Andean lifestyles, but they are still present,even up to and beyond European contact.  By doing a regional survey aroundTI-185, we will be able to test whether the stone tools present at that sitewere made from local source material, or if long distance transportation wasstill present.

Second, an in-depth survey of TI-185 will be completed to find distribution of stone tools across the site.  The setting of stone tools on a site is needed to understand specific local lifeways of the site.  In this manner, one can understand more clearly the organization of labor within a community, and determine which specific groups of people were processing lithic raw material, the degree to which these were specialized activities, and assess the distribution of manufactured stone tools among farmers, fisherfolk, and hunters living nearby.  An analysis of stone tools and reduction debris will help to understand their practices of resource transport.  If a great deal of flaking debris is present then it is likely that the stone tools were created onsite, or that the geologic sources are nearby.  If the geologic sources were far away, people would be more likely to reduce the stone in size while at the geologic source for easier transport and less lithic debris would be present at the site.  
Third, a survey of nearby archaeological sites for similar stone tools will be completed.  Recent research has suggested that many prehispanic coastal villages may have lived fairly autonomously from one another along the nearby coast.  Models of exchange in the area have shown the exploitation of diverse resources on a local scale.  How does this affect trade between neighboring sites?  Does each coastal site have a distinct form of identity?  A look at the stone tools at other archaeological sites will allow for a clearer understanding of trade between local groups by determining if the geologic material is the same as TI-185 and whether the stone tools are of the same typology. 

Ultimately, the summer work will form the foundation of my thesis research and allow me to finish in a timely manner.  This specific summer research is essential to my M.S. thesis in that it will provide the necessary field data to answer questions about stone tool production, use, and trade around the time of European contact.  In addition, this study will potentially be able to create a local stone tool typology.  Not until recently has a projectile point typology been created for the south-central Andean highlands.  For the southern coast of Peru, however, there is no set typology present, and particularly with respect to the late prehispanic past.  From the environmental survey of geologic material used for the creation of the stone tools and the survey of TI-185, a temporal lithic typology for the south coast of Peru will be created.  This typology could later be expanded upon and used as a reference in future studies, not just within this local area but also across a much larger coastal scale.

This typology could later be expanded upon and used as a reference in future studies, not just within this local area but also across a much larger coastal scale.