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Isotopic evidence for the trade and production of exotic marine mammal bone artifacts at Chavín de Huántar, Peru

Abstract

This study uses stable isotope analysis to identify the possible origin and taxon of unusually large worked bone artifacts recovered from the site of Chavín de Huántar in the central highland of Peru (3200–2200 BP). The site was traditionally considered to be an ideal trading point halfway between the Pacific coast and the Amazon jungle. The archaeological specimens were discovered in a workshop area located in the La Banda sector across from the main temple, and they were analyzed for the stable isotopes of carbon, nitrogen, sulfur, and oxygen. Results indicate that the worked bone artifacts are marine in origin and are likely from a cetacean or large pinniped. Their exotic origin and elaborate work have implications about ancient production practices and exchange, and they provide benchmark data and a comparative approach for future analysis of exotic bone artifacts.

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Notes

  1. The first significant occupations in this sector were excavated in 2003 by John Wolf and John Rick (Stanford University). Subsequent referrals to La Banda excavations discuss those directed by Sayre in 2005 (Sayre 2010).

  2. The polished circular disk was in very poor conditions of preservation and was not available at the time of artifact exportation for further analysis.

  3. While caimans can be rather large, their narrow scapula makes it unlikely that this bone was used to carve the artifacts in question here. Given the round shape of the artifacts, a mammalian scapula is most likely. Among the large jungle mammals, the manatee is the largest animal, its scapula measuring about 28 cm long and 12 cm wide (Quiring and Harlan 1953).

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Acknowledgments

The excavations in the La Banda sector were directed by Sayre, the zooarchaeological analysis was conducted by Rosenfeld, and the isotopic analysis was conducted by Miller at the University of California, Berkeley. We thank John Rick (Stanford University), Nicholas Weiland and Erica Kuharski (USD), Todd Dawson, Stefania Mambelli and Paul Brooks (CSIB), Lynn Ingram and Wenbo Yang (LESIG), and Dustin Stansbury. This research was supported by the National Science Foundation DDRI#0533369, UC Berkeley Lowie-Olson Fund, and Stanford University IHUM Research Funds.

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Sayre, M.P., Miller, M.J. & Rosenfeld, S.A. Isotopic evidence for the trade and production of exotic marine mammal bone artifacts at Chavín de Huántar, Peru. Archaeol Anthropol Sci 8, 403–417 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12520-015-0230-y

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Keywords

  • Isotope
  • Marine mammal
  • Chavin
  • Andean archaeology
  • Exchange