15 Sep

Geographical Review Preview: The Lower Ucayali River in Prehistory: Cultural Chronology, Archeological Evidence and a Recently Discovered Pre-Columbian site

By: Oliver T. Coomes, Christian Abizaid, Yoshito Takasaki and Santiago Rivas Panduro

What is the main purpose of your study? 

The main purpose of the study was to describe a new archeological site discovered recently along the Ucayali river, a major tributary of the Amazon river, in Peru.

Geothermal river near Nuevo Encanto de Suni.


What are the practical, day to day, implications of your study? 

Most scientists believe that few archeological sites exist in the Peruvian Amazon because the rivers meander wildly and destroy remains along rivers where indigenous peoples lived. Our study shows that there exist many more sites than is commonly known, and our new site shows exceptional promise for further discovery of Amazonian peoples in prehistory. 

How does your study relate to other work on the subject?

Bronze axe-head

Published evidence of prehistoric settlement from the lowlands of Amazonian Peru is sufficiently scarce to perpetuate debates over the presence and impact of early populations in western Amazonia.  We review the cultural prehistory of the Lower Ucayali River, assess the presence of archeological sites and recovered artifacts,

Ceramic adorno

and describe a promising new site which may have been the chiefdom seat of the late prehistoric Cocama people.  Our study suggests that studies aiming to resolve debates over early environmental influence of humans in western Amazon basin may not be looking in the right places.

What are two or three interesting findings that come from your study? 

Spindle whorl

We discovered a Pre-Columbian archeological site where people possessed Incan bronze axes, far from the Incan homeland in the Andes. The site is special because it is nearby vital resources such as salt, rock and clay that are scarce in the region as well as a geothermal river, which in its headwaters flows as a boiling river.

What might be some of the theoretical implications of this study? 

Our study advances understanding of the cultural chronology and history of one of the largest indigenous groups in western Amazonia – the Cocama people, whose history and legacy are poorly known.  

The community of Nuevo Encanto de Suni, Peruvian Amazon.

How does your research help us think about Geography? 

Our study shows the importance of field reconnaissance and discovery in Geography, and the importance of geographical factors in understanding how ancient peoples once lived. 


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Click here to read the abstract of this article.