Paleo-Indian Hunters of the Semi-Arid North

  • Environment and Geography

    When the first humans came to the Americas, the glacial climate of the Pleistocene was just beginning to lessen. In the Semi-arid north of Chile (from the Copiapó to the Aconcagua Valley) the melting of the ice left behind a land sprinkled with lakes and rushing rivers, increasing vegetation and concentrating herds of large land animals, now extinct, around these more verdant areas. Among these animals were the so-called megafauna, including mastodon, New World horses, swamp deer, early llama and Milodon.

  • Economy

    These early hunters took advantage of the large megafauna that congregated around the newly formed lagoons and ravines, encircling them then bringing them down by stoning them. One kill provided ample food for these small groups. They also manufactured stone projectile points for their spears, as well as knives and scrapers for slaughtering, and used the bones and skin of their prey to make a variety of implements and clothing. To complement their diet, they probably gathered fruit from the surrounding forests and water plants from nearby lakes.

  • Art

    The scant evidence found to date is insufficient to comment on this aspect of the Paleo-Indian hunter culture. However, some artifacts found for the same period further to the south show decorative work on wood and bone, especially on hunting weapons.

  • Social Organization

    Little is known of the social organization of these groups. However, it is likely that they lived in small family bands that enabled them to move around easily, as their hunting way of life required, with a division of labor based only on age and sex.

  • Beliefs and Funeral Rites

    The scant evidence found to date is insufficient to comment on this aspect of Paleo-Indian culture.

  • Settlement Pattern

    To date, no residential camps have been found that could be attributed to these groups, only sites where they hunted and slaughtered their prey. These were highly mobile groups that traveled around an extensive territory.

  • History

    Although there is still some debate around when exactly the Americas were first populated, it is a now accepted fact that the first colonizers came from Northeast Asia across the Bering Strait more than 15,000 years ago. From there, they began to populate the lands to the south, and by around 13,000 BCE were leaving traces of their presence at Santa Julia, El Membrillo and Quereo, coastal beaches and ravines close to the present-day town of Los Vilos in Coquimbo Region. These ancient hunter gatherers were the first to inhabit the region, ushering in a lengthy cultural process that has continued to this day. After the extinction of the megafauna, the cornerstone of their early economy, these groups became experts in hunting smaller species, giving way to the Archaic Period.