2278 - Human Occupation and the Environment during the Holocene in the River Cauca Valley, Colombia

In much of the región comprised by the upper and central course of the river Cauca and the mountains that flank it, there is a gap in our knowledge of human occupation for a thousand years and more. The most recent dates for preceramic sites are in the third millenium B.C. and these later sites appear to be far less numerous than those known from earlier in the Holocene. This “archaeological silence” comes to an end about 700 B.C. or slightly earlier by which time the area was inhabited by established farmers with sophisticated pottery. The period of silence is precisely when we would expect to find evidence for early Formative activity in the area including early crops (a core at the Hacienda Lusitania revealed maize pollen and evidence of what is interpreted as human disturbance of the natural vegetation by approximately 3000 B.C. Jose G. Monsalve, A pollen core from the Hacienda, Pro Calima 4, 1985, 40-44). This paper summarises the results of on-going research on the valley floor by a multidisciplinary team of archaeologists, specialists in soils, in pollen analysis and in phytoliths. The research project is designed to chart the history of human occupation of the valley during the whole of the Holocene and the interaction between the human population and the environment. For this more information on changes in climate and vegetation during this period is essential. Environmentally the area appears to have been extremely dynamic and preliminary interpretations of the evidence suggest that there was a very wet period at the beginning of the Holocene which was followed by a prolonged dry period with fluctuations. The meandering course of the river Cauca produced numerous ox-bow lakes which would have been prime settlement sites while, on the down side, extensive flooding would have been an ever-present hazard. Additional problems were provided by the volcanoes, active in the Central Cordillera, and there is evidence for ash falls and for catastrophic quantities of this material washed into the area of study by tributaries of the river Cauca. It is vital to take all these conditions into account when assessing the región from the point of view of its attractions for human settlement in the early and middle Holocene.

Keywords: Archaeology, Environment and Culture, Cauca Valley, Colombia

Author: Schrimpff, Marianne Cardale (Pro Calima FOundation for Archaeological Research, Colombia / Kolumbien)


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