Dr. Kurt Rademaker Studies Early Settlement in South America through NSF Archaeology Project

Dr. Rademaker and Taylor Panczak surveying prehistoric lithic workshops, 2018
Dr. Rademaker (left) and Taylor Panczak surveying prehistoric lithic workshops in the Peruvian desert

Assistant Professor Dr. Kurt Rademaker is the Principal Investigator of a 3-year NSF Archaeology project entitled, “Social Adaptation in a Highly Varied Spatial Environment” (BCS-1659015), which will close next year. This project focuses on some of the earliest archaeological sites known in South America to learn about the timing of initial settlement, the routes used to settle various ecological zones, and the formation of inter-zonal social connections.

At the end of the last ice age, hunter-gatherers successfully colonized nearly every ecological zone in the western hemisphere within a few thousand years. In South America, these environments included the hyper-arid Pacific coast where fisherfolk exploited the bounty of the sea, and the rugged Andes up to 4500 m (~14,800 feet) above sea level where camelid hunters lived in base camps in highland oases. These coastal and highland sites are linked through shared raw materials and artifacts, but whether the sites were made by one group moving inter-zonally or multiple groups settling both coast and highlands is unknown.

Dr. Rademaker and students climbing dune while surveying in southern Peru
Dr. Rademaker and students climbing a dune while surveying for archaeological sites in the remote desert of southern Peru

Dr. Rademaker has been leading an interdisciplinary, international team of senior scientists and students to study the functional relationships of these linked Paleoindian sites at the coast and highlands dating between 13,000 and 12,000 years ago. The project includes archaeological exploration of remote desert areas between the coast and highlands to discover additional sites in the settlement system, excavations, and analyses of materials from the sites using cutting-edge techniques. By determining the age and season of occupation of each site in the settlement system, and by teasing out behavioral indicators from the material remains from each site, the team will learn whether the coast or highlands were settled first, whether there were one or multiple groups, and more generally how humans have adapted to live in some of Earth’s most challenging environments.

To learn more about Dr. Rademaker’s research, visit his working group’s website: www.paleoandes.com