Regional Archaeology

The first peopling in the Central Plateau of Santa Cruz, ArgentinaEdit

The first human groups probably arrived in America during the late Pleistocene, about 20,000 years ago. At that time, a land bridge, named Beringia, arose between America and Asia because a big glaciation caused sea level decrease. Consequently, people could travel across this region and reach America. About 13,000 years ago, during the Pleistocene/Holocene transition people arrived in Patagonia. The most ancient archaeological sites are Monte Verde, which was dated in 12,500 years BP (Dillehay 1997). In the Central Plateau of Santa Cruz the first occupation evidences were dated between ca. 11,800 and 10,000 years BP (Paunero 2009). Therefore, the first exploration and colonization event (sensu Borrero 1994-95) would range between 10,000 and 11,800 years BP (Paunero et al. 2007). Miotti (2006) based on Erlandson (2001) proposed a ramifying centripetal model for Patagonian peopling. She suggests that the optimal place for the first human occupations were the aquatic environments, both marine littoral and freshwater availability areas. This last involves a variety of basins, with a great biological diversity. Therefore, the coasts would function as paths between the sea and the land. At the Pleistocene/Holocene transition time climate and geological changes were followed. The glaciers started to recede and the climate began to warm, however there were brief punctual events of glacier advance (Clapperton 1995 [1]; McCulloch et al. 2000 [2]; Rabassa et al. 2000 [3]). As a result, the vegetation and the faunal structure were altered. In this way the later Pleistocene had a greater faunal diversity than the later times, with evidences of modern and extinct species. Between the first such species as guanaco (Lama guanicoe), South American ostriches (Rhea americana and Pterocnemiapennata), and modern foxes were found. Between the second camelids –Hemiauchenia cf. paradoxa and Lama (vicugna) gracilis–, ground sloth (Mylodon darwinii), American horse (Hippidion saldiasi), South American deer (Hippocamelus bisulcus), large panther (Panthera onca mesembrina), and foxes (Dusicyon avus) were registered (Borrero 2001; Miotti 2003; Paunero 2003b). In this environmental context, the exploration and colonization of Patagonia was a slow process with advances and retreats of population. Human groups had high mobility, with short periods of occupation sites and a very low demography (Borrero 1994-95; Miotti and Salemme 2004; Paunero 2003a). Subsistence was based on the hunting of guanaco and occasionally the consumption of Pleistocene extinct large species such as Hippidion saldiasi or Lama gracilis (Miotti and Salemme 2004), however these mammals were not a critical resource. In the central plateau of Santa Cruz there were many places with a concentration of diverse resources such as water, animals, vegetables, wood and minerals. These areas were strategic for both hunting and areal control, hence they were continuously occupied. Different portions of the landscape were inhabited. However, in this region, the caves have high methodological importance since they actually are sediment traps. They have very good conditions for the preservation of the archaeological material and they allow to find out temporal limits (Paunero 2003a). The evidence coming from the archaeological sites shows that the occupations were diverse (primary and secondary processing site, workshop, hunting site, ceremonial site, and multiactivities site) and that the work space was structured with differences in the intra and intersite activities (Paunero 2003a; Paunero, Frank, Skarbun, Rosales et al. 2007; Paunero et al. 2005). People’s technological knowledge was broad and diverse, e.g. core preparation, predetermined support extract (such as blades or triangular flakes), pressure, bifacial thinning techniques (Borrero 1999; Paunero 2004; Paunero et al. 2005; Skarbun et al. 2007), and other special techniques such as heat treatment (Frank 2011). In addition, they had proof knowledge about the resources of the region, they used the available excellent flints in the area and non-local lithic raw material coming from a distance of about 200 km (Skarbun et al. 2007). Finally, they managed bone technology and the art rock had a variety of techniques.


  1. Clapperton, C. M. 1995. Fluctuations of local glaciers at the termination of the pleistocene: 18-8 ka BP. Quaternary International Vol. 28:41-50.
  2. McCulloch, R. D., M. J. Bentley, R. S. Purves, N. R. J. Hulton, D. E. Sugden and C. M. Clapperton 2000. Climatic inferences from glacial and palaeoecological evidence at the last glacial termination, southern South America. Journal of Quaternary Science 15:409- 417.
  3. Rabassa, J. O., A. M. Coronato, G. G. Bujalesky, M. C. Salemme, C. E. Roig, A. Meglioli, C. J. Heusser, S. Gordillo, F. Roig, A. M. Borromei and M. Quattrocchio 2000. Quaternary of Tierra del Fuego, Southernmost South America: an updated review. Quaternary International 68-71:217-240.