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    Posted July 4, 2013 by

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    I DON'T study dinosaurs!: Archaeology in Peru pt 3

    Excavation is the cornerstone to archaeological research. Recently I wrote how archaeologists use survey to identify archaeology sites and also about how most archaeologists are more interested in finding trash than they are in finding golden trinkets. Here, I am going to take a moment to expand on those ideas by exploring what I learned through studying trash in my own project.

    Excavation in trash deposits of Salitre and Campo Libre turned some interesting things. For example, even though both of these sites are located in a region known as the chaupiyunga, or mid valley region, and are located approximately 65 km (about 33 mi) for the coast, we uncovered a surprising amount of shellfish. This means that people in the chaupiyunga region had access to coastal resources, though it is still unclear if they gained access to these resources via trade with coastal groups, or if they themselves went down to the coast to gather shellfish.

    Furthermore, the fact that we actually found shells is important because this means that people were transporting whole, live shellfish, instead of just shucking them on the coast and then transporting the dried meat. This is interesting for several reasons. First, whole shellfish are more difficult to transport than shucked dried ones both because whole shellfish are much heavier, but because they need to be kept damp and cool to remain alive and eatable. This means that they would have had to be kept in tightly woven baskets or other similar containers that were soaked in sea water and possibly wrapped in sea weed.

    Furthermore, since live shellfish will only live for a week or so (depending on the species) once they have been removed from the ocean, they would have had be have been eaten within a few days of arriving at Campo Libre and Salitre. Together, the difficulty of transporting and storing shellfish suggests that shellfish procuring trips would have had to have been highly organized and that this food probably would have been very valuable and perhaps only eaten during special occasions.

    So, from these humble shellfish remains that we found in the trash, we have learned that people in the chaupiyunga had contact with people living on the coast. We also have learned that people in the chaupiyunga were able to organize labor and transport in order to keep the shellfish alive during the 65 km trip.
    Of course, shellfish was not the only thing that people in the chaupiyunga ate, and looking at trash can be extraordinarily helpful in reconstructing diet. For example, based on the animal remains that we found in the trash deposits, we know that people were also eating camelid meat (probably llama), guinea pig, and viscacha (a type of rodent related to the chinchilla). The camelid bones in particular are interesting. Based on the rates of fusion on the bones, we know people were eating both juvenile and adult camelids. Furthermore, we recovered skeletal elements from all parts of the animal. This means that people living in the chaupiyunga probably raised their own camelids and slaughtered them on site.

    So, trash can really teach us a lot about the past. By analyzing what people in the past threw away, we can reconstruct their diet and make inferences about economic organization, in particular about how trade and labor were organized. So the next time you meet an archaeologists (and there are many more of us around then you might think), please don’t ask them about gold or silver treasures, ask them about their trash!

    Do you like science? Do you like archaeology? Are you tired of government and private foundations deciding what projects get funding without public input? Then take matters into you own hands and support crowd source funding research! Look for more information here: https://www.microryza.com/projects/feasting-interaction-and-the-middle-ground-understanding-local-geopolitics-through-agricultural-production
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