Notably the culture, and Santa Elena municipality. Is known for its role in domesticating wild squash, arrowroot, maize and others. Its home to one of the largest burial sites in South America too. Astoundingly, more than 190 people were found.
c. 8000 – 4600 BC
Santa Elena peninsula. The part of a coastal desert that stretches for 3,000 kilometers (1,900 mi). Along the Pacific coast of South America. And, up into central America. Following the influences. The oceans Humboldt currents keep waters cool, and things mild.
It is around 23 °C, or (73 °F) outside. Seasonal variation isn’t super bad. And, it is usually within a few degrees. The natural vegetation near the coast is xeric featuring things like cacti and other desert plants. It is beautiful.
Things change inland though. Precipitation generally increases. Vegetation is differentiated and more lush. It changes from a desert to seasonally dry forest. Because of its geographical location. And, cool under the influences weather. Las Vegas culture has become known as one of the earliest geographical settlements for the region(s).
Rain and water currents were important
It has been 10,000 years since Las Vegas culture. The dry climate and xeric (dry) vegetation seem to have persisted. The area does actually receive about 250 millimeters (9.8 in) of precipitation annually. Most of it is received from January to March though. There is also the seas. Like many, ocean levels began rising around 7000 years ago. Shrinking there landscapes and area. It is believed to have an affect on the climate, and the early and late periods culture. How it changed. And,the people dealt with it. Remains have indicated a dryer climate. Atypical for areas maize is grown well. Rising ocean levels and changing climate could have helped the culture pursue plant domestication. Gathering of different fish, wildlife. Tools and supplies too.
Thirty-two Las Vegas sites have been identified
Most along the river, and its tributaries. Sites are scattered over a range of 25 kilometers (16 miles) by 12 kilometers (7.5 miles). Maybe some are not yet found. Because of the coastal landscape, and previously lower ocean levels. Especially outside of the area. Habitation would have been different. Mangrove clam swamps would have been alot more common back then. And, people would have been looking for food.
Early and late culture. Descriptions and differences
Evidence of a human presence of the Santa Elena peninsula has been radiocarbon dated back to 8800 BCE. With the onset of the Las Vegas period about 8000 BC. The evidence becomes much more extensive. Archaeologists have divided the Las Vegas culture into two periods: early Las Vegas from 8000 to 6000 BC, and late Las Vegas from 6000 BC to 4600 BC.
The dividing line between the two periods is a lacuna in the archaeological record at one representative site. And, changes in ocean levels.
The culture was pre-ceramic, meaning that the people did not utilize pottery. So they had to use different tools like bottle gords, bone, flesh, or stone cups. They also utilized shell, wood, bamboo, reeds, and bark to make whatever tools and containers they could. Maybe even drink with there hands, or use other materials we don’t know about. Sites found suggest marine life and terrestrial resources were equal. They also show that residents were healthy, and free of anemia. Houses were very small and flimsy but did the jobs as necessary.
The people gathered wild foods and hunted and fished in the variety of habitats in the region: the desert, dry tropical forest, and the Pacific coast.
Deer, fox, rabbit, small rodents, weasel, anteater, squirrel, peccary, opossum, frog, boa constrictor, indigo snake, parrot and lizard were exploited for food.
There is an area where 22 eremotherium skeletons (giant sloth) had been found. Perhaps a family, generational off spring or group. They could also have become poisoned or trapped.
Inter tidal species and crab were harvested. The harvesting of offshore fish species suggests that the later Las Vegas had boats. They made a variety of tools from stone and bone points. As well as, items for making nets. The Las Vegans were broad-spectrum hunters. They were able to hunt and feed on many different species. They did not rely on any one source of food.
Given the scarcity of surface water, and near desert conditions. The Santa Elena peninsula does not seem a promising area for pre-historic agriculture. Yet, they were among the earliest in South America to practice it.
Agriculture does not replace fishing, hunting, and foraging, but complemented a sequence in the traditional means of subsistence. That was a sign of the leadership and the time.
The earliest domesticated crops have been narrowed to: calabash or bottle gourd, and leren (Calathea allouia, or arrow root). There is also debate about corn or maize, in and around the area.
Evidence of their cultivation and domestication date to at least 7000 BC, or (9000 years ago).
Sea levels resources and burials
During the late period, sea levels rose, bringing marine resources closer to established sites. At the same time, big game either became less abundant, or was simply hunted less by the Las Vegans. The more sedentary lifestyle probably helped foster stronger communities. This same culture. Used predominantly only 2 burial areas. And, they transported the dead from one, to two major sites. Most show something unique. A first and second burial. In the initial burial, a corpse was placed in a grave in a flexed position. Later on, bones from these burials were unearthed and placed in another burial.
End of Las Vegas
After 46000 BC. Archaeologists found no more evidence of the culture. It was one thousand years later, around 3500 BC (5500 years ago), Valdivia culture appears.
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Dolores R. Piperno. “The Origins of Plant Cultivation and Domestication in the New World Tropics: Patterns, Process, and New Developments.” (http://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/10. 1086/659998) Current Anthropology 2011; 52(S4), S453-S470. doi:10.1086/659998 (https://doi.org/10.1086%2F659998)
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Emily L Lindsey, Erick X Lopez Reyes, Gordon E Matzke, Karin A Rice, and H Gregory McDonald: A monodominant late-Pleistocene megafauna locality from Santa Elena, Ecuador: Insight on the biology and behavior of giant ground sloths. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, 2020, p. 109599