A story told from a small-mesh screen: the importance of songbirds and ground doves to the Guangala people at the El Azúcar archeological site in coastal Ecuador

Abstract

The Guangala people of El Azúcar, located 25 km from the Ecuadorean coast, specialized on the production of beads and hunting for trade between approximately 150 BC and 370 AC. In this study, I analyzed the avian component of the zooarchaeological remains to examine patterns in resource use and paleoecological conditions during site occupancy. For comparison, I also identified the bird bones from three archeological sites in the Valdivia Valley, 38 km to the north. The composition of the avifauna at the El Azúcar site is highly unusual. Unlike at any other sites, including the Valdivia Village sites examined in this study, songbirds and small ground doves make up over 90% of all samples. The large number of songbirds and columbids is probably due to a combination of (1) taphonomy, (2) the use of 1/8 in. mesh for screening of sediments during excavation, and (3) local adaptations in resource use. Novel hypotheses regarding the exploitation of birds by the Guangala people of El Azúcar are presented. Most importantly, I posit that most birds were probably hunted by women and children in and around agricultural plots, perhaps by using fishing nets. The avifauna at El Azúcar and the Valdivia Village suggest that climate was variable, consistent with the expected impact of the El Niño Southern Oscillation on the Ecuadorian coast. These insights could not have been gained without the use of 1/8-in screens and species-level identifications of the zooarchaeological specimens.

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Acknowledgments

I thank D. Steadman for guidance during the study. B. K. McNab, N. Williams, S. deFrance, and M. Binford provided valuable comments throughout. Two anonymous reviewers greatly helped improve the manuscript. For assistance with archeological specimens and morphometric measurements, I am grateful to I. Ulloa and L. Bianco. I. Quitmyer was my guide through the Environmental Archeology Collection at the Florida Museum of Natural History. Finally, I would like to thank D. Steadman (Florida Museum of Natural History) and V. Remsen (Louisiana State University Museum of Natural History) for the access to comparative osteological material without which this study would not have been possible.

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Correspondence to Markus P. Tellkamp.

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This article is part of the Topical Collection on Avian Zooarchaeology: Prehistoric and Historical Insights

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Tellkamp, M.P. A story told from a small-mesh screen: the importance of songbirds and ground doves to the Guangala people at the El Azúcar archeological site in coastal Ecuador. Archaeol Anthropol Sci 11, 6411–6421 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12520-018-00772-6

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Keywords

  • Guangala
  • Garden hunting
  • Net-hunting
  • Small-meshed screens
  • Songbirds
  • Ground doves
  • Climate variability