Research articles

The role of farming and fishing in the rise of social complexity in the Central Andes: a stable isotope perspective


For many years, the rise of stratified societies along the Central Andean coast, known as the birthplace of Andean civilization, has been closely linked to a marine-oriented economy. This hypothesis has recently been challenged by increasing evidence of plant management and cultivation among Andean populations long before the emergence of complex societies and monumental architecture. The extent to which marine and plant-based economies were integrated and their contributions to early sedentism, population growth, and intra-community stratification, however, remain subjects of ongoing and contentious debate. Using Bayesian Mixing Models Pezo-Franfanco and Colonese reanalyze the previously published stable isotopes (δ15Ncollagen, δ13Ccollagen, δ13Capatite) values of 572 human individuals from 39 archaeological sites in the Central Andes dated between ca. 7000 BCE and 200 CE to reconstruct dietary regimes in probabilistic terms. Our results reveal that fish, terrestrial fauna, and cultivated plants variably contributed to the diet of prehistoric Andean populations; in coastal and middle valley settlements plant cultivation, not fishing, fueled the development of the earliest complex societies during the Formative Period (from 3000 BCE). Similarly, in the highlands the societies that built ceremonial centers show a plant-based economy. Our findings also show that maize only became a staple food (> 25% dietary contribution) in more recent phases of Andean prehistory, around 500 BCE.