Graduation Year

2006

Document Type

Thesis

Degree

M.A.

Degree Granting Department

Anthropology

Major Professor

Robert H. Tykot, Ph.D.

Co-Major Professor

David Himmelgreen, Ph.D.

Committee Member

E. Christian Wells, Ph.D.

Keywords

archaeometry, bone chemistry, diet, stable isotope, South America, mummification

Abstract

A dietary reconstruction was performed in order to understand changing prehistoric subsistence patterns in the Central Andean geographical area of the Argentine Cuyo that includes the provinces of San Juan and Mendoza. Archaeologically, the Cuyo is also known as a boundary between Andean agriculturalists and the foragers of Patagonia. One hypothesis being tested is whether this area was one of the last South American cultural groups to convert to maize cultivation, probably around 2000 BP. The process of stable isotope analysis is used to reconstruct the diets of individuals, as it reveals the relative proportions of C3 and C4 plants and the contribution of aquatic resources to otherwise terrestrial diets, as well as variations in trophic level of the foods consumed.

In this study the bones, teeth, hair, and flesh from 45 individuals were tested to address specifically total and protein diets, as well as seasonal variation and changes between childhood and adulthood. This process, when used in combination with previous analyses, such as midden or faunal analysis, allows researchers to evaluate the results of those previous studies, and thus compose a more thorough reconstruction of the lifestyles of a prehistoric culture.

Information garnered from this study indicates that the times of dietary transition were variable, with seasonal patterns becoming more stable over long periods. Furthermore, some members of the study population demonstrate the existence of nutritional stress indicators, such as dental caries, that can be viewed in relation to the dietary shifts that may have been a cultural adaptation to the environment of the Cuyo. Overall, this study shows the early adoption of maize agriculture in central western Argentina and recommends future studies that analyze the relationships between agriculture, diet, and nutrition in the New World.

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