Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory

, Volume 21, Issue 1, pp 134–211

The Archaeology of Cosmic Impact: Lessons from Two Mid-Holocene Argentine Case Studies


DOI: 10.1007/s10816-012-9149-0

Cite this article as:
Barrientos, G. & Masse, W.B. J Archaeol Method Theory (2014) 21: 134. doi:10.1007/s10816-012-9149-0


Cosmic impact is a category of natural catastrophe neglected or misunderstood by most archaeologists in reconstructions of past human population dynamics. We discuss the nature of impact by asteroids and comets and what is known and theorized about the Quaternary Period impact record. As case studies for our exploration of how archaeological method and theory can be productively applied to the study of cosmic impact, we focus on two confirmed Holocene asteroid impacts in central and northeastern Argentina, Rio Cuarto and Campo del Cielo, both likely dating between 6 and 3 cal ky BP. We model and assess the potential destructive effects of these impacts on contemporary hunting and gathering populations using several lines of evidence. The search for Quaternary Period cosmic impacts, along with the documentation of the effects of confirmed cosmic impacts on human populations, particularly of those organized in small-scale social groups, represents a challenge and key opportunity for future archaeological research.


Extraterrestrial object collisionsQuaternary PeriodArchaeological evidence and judgment criteriaCampo del Cielo and Río Cuarto impact events

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Facultad de Ciencias Naturales y MuseoUniversidad Nacional del La PlataLa PlataArgentina
  2. 2.Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas (CONICET)Buenos AiresArgentina
  3. 3.Guest Scientist, Environmental Stewardship GroupLos Alamos National LaboratoryLos AlamosUSA