Letters to Nature

Nature 432, 614-617 (2 December 2004) | doi:10.1038/nature02983; Received 11 June 2004; Accepted 27 August 2004

Evidence for cultivar adoption and emerging complexity during the mid-Holocene in the La Plata basin

José Iriarte1, Irene Holst1, Oscar Marozzi2, Claudia Listopad3, Eduardo Alonso4, Andrés Rinderknecht5 & Juan Montaña6

  1. Center for Tropical Paleoecology and Archaeology, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Box 2072, Balboa, Panama
  2. Departamento de Antropología, Facultad de Humanidades y Ciencias de la Educación, Magallanes 1577, Montevideo 1200, Uruguay
  3. Florida Institute of Technology, Department of Biological Sciences, 150 West University Boulevard, Melbourne, Florida 32901-6975, USA
  4. Departamento de Botánica, Facultad de Química, Universidad de la República, Avda. Gral. Flores 2124, Montevideo, Uruguay
  5. Museos Nacionales de Historia Natural y Antropología, Casilla de Correo 339, Montevideo, Uruguay
  6. Facultad de Agronomía, Universidad de la República, Av. Garzón 780, Montevideo 12900, Uruguay

Correspondence to: José Iriarte1 Email: iriartej@ancon.si.edu

Multidisciplinary investigations at the Los Ajos archaeological mound complex in the wetlands of southeastern Uruguay challenge the traditional view that the La Plata basin was inhabited by simple groups of hunters and gatherers for much of the pre-Hispanic era1, 2, 3, 4. Here we report new archaeological, palaeoecological and botanical data indicating that during an increasingly drier mid-Holocene, at around 4,190 radiocarbon (14C) years before present (bp), Los Ajos became a permanent circular plaza village, and its inhabitants adopted the earliest cultivars known in southern South America. The architectural plan of Los Ajos during the following Ceramic Mound Period (around 3,000–500 14C yr bp) is similar to, but earlier than, settlement patterns demonstrated in Amazonia5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, revealing a new and independent architectural tradition for South America.

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