Pre-Columbian Archeological Complex Discovered on the Lower Ucayali River, Peru

Authors: Oliver T. Coomes*, McGill University, Christian Abizaid, Department of Geography & Planning and School of Environment, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada, Yoshito Takasaki, Graduate School of Economics, University of Tokyo, Tokyo, Japan, Carlos Regnifo Upiachihua, Independent
Topics: Cultural Ecology, Latin America
Keywords: Amazonia, Peruvian Amazon, cultural ecology, pre-history, indigenous peoples
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 9:55 AM / 11:35 AM
Room: Roosevelt 2, Marriott, Exhibition Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In contrast to Brazil where research points increasingly to the transformative influence of indigenous peoples in pre-history on Amazonian landscapes, published archaeological evidence from the Peruvian Amazon is sufficiently scare so as to perpetuate the long-standing debate over the impact of pre-historical populations on the environment in western Amazonia. Once a major focal point for archeological research in Amazonia, the Ucayali river of Peru has received little attention since the early 1980s. In this paper we report on the discovery of a pre-Columbian complex on the Lower Ucayali river. Situated on a river terrace at the narrowest point in the Ucayali river valley, the settlement had access to both floodplain and terra firme environments as well as to rock for stone axes, clay for pottery, salt for use as a condiment and possibly fish preservation, and geothermal river waters for therapeutic/ ceremonial uses. We argue that the site characteristics are exceptional and, combined with information from ethnohistorical sources, surmise that the site may have been the seat of a late pre-historic Cocama chiefdom. We situate the discovery in the context of extant archeological reports from the broader Region of Loreto, and in doing so, demonstrate that far more archaeological sites exist than suggested by the literature. Our discovery points to the need for a fuller archaeological exploration of the site and surrounding area, and suggests that studies aiming to resolve the debate over environmental influence of humans in pre-history in Peru may not be looking in the right places.

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