We cannot verify your location
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE

A Prehistory of South America

Ancient Cultural Diversity on the Least Known Continent

Jerry D. Moore

Publication Year: 2014

A Prehistory of South America is an overview of the ancient and historic native cultures of the entire continent of South America based on the most recent archaeological investigations. This accessible, clearly written text is designed to engage undergraduate and beginning graduate students in anthropology. For more than 12,000 years, South American cultures ranged from mobile hunters and gatherers to rulers and residents of colossal cities. In the process, native South American societies made advancements in agriculture and economic systems and created great works of art—in pottery, textiles, precious metals, and stone—that still awe the modern eye. Organized in broad chronological periods, A Prehistory of South America explores these diverse human achievements, emphasizing the many adaptations of peoples from a continent-wide perspective. Moore examines the archaeologies of societies across South America, from the arid deserts of the Pacific coast and the frigid Andean highlands to the humid lowlands of the Amazon Basin and the fjords of Patagonia and beyond. Illustrated in full color and suitable for an educated general reader interested in the Precolumbian peoples of South America, A Prehistory of South America is a long overdue addition to the literature on South American archaeology.

Published by: University Press of Colorado

Title Page, Quote, Copyright Page, Dedication

pdf iconDownload PDF (255.2 KB)


pdf iconDownload PDF (182.3 KB)
pp. vii-xii

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (537.9 KB)
pp. xiii-xxii

You are living in a golden age of South American archaeology, a period of profound transformations in archaeological knowledge of the continent. A Prehistory of South America: Ancient Cultural Diversity on the Least Known Continent introduces you to the amazingly diverse achievements of ancient...

read more

1. Archaeology in South America: A Brief Historical Overview

pdf iconDownload PDF (1.4 MB)
pp. 1-28

Current archaeological knowledge builds on several centuries of interest in the antiquities and monuments of South America, although interest motivated by very different goals and practices. The first European descriptions of South American objects and sites were the by-products of conquest. Soldiers...

read more

2. The Brave New World: Environmental Diversity in South America

pdf iconDownload PDF (2.4 MB)
pp. 29-62

South America is characterized by diversity, as measured on every conceivable dimension. From the Isthmus of Panama to Tierra del Fuego, the continent stretches between the latitudes of 12° N and 55° S and the longitudes of 35° and 80° W. It encompasses more than 17.8 million km2 (6.87 million square miles), approximately...

read more

3. The Last Ancient Homeland: The Peopling of South America

pdf iconDownload PDF (988.2 KB)
pp. 63-92

In 1927, when a team of excavators at a site near Folsom, New Mexico, discovered an in situ projectile point between the ribs of an extinct Pleistocene species of American buffalo (Bison antiquus), the implication was obvious: humans had arrived in the Americas thousands of years ago.1 The Folsom...

read more

4. Archaic Adaptations

pdf iconDownload PDF (2.2 MB)
pp. 93-130

The termArchaic implies more than the word archaic: “antiquated,” “surviving from an earlier period,” or “characteristic of the past.” For archaeologists working in the Americas, the Archaic refers to the period after the initial, Paleoindian occupation of the continents and before the development of settled...

read more

5. Origins and Consequences of Agriculture in South America

pdf iconDownload PDF (3.4 MB)
pp. 131-180

The origin of agriculture has long been an important domain of archaeological research. Ever since the British archaeologist V. Gordon Childe famously defined “the Neolithic Revolution”—the shift from hunting and gathering to agriculture that was akin to the Industrial Revolution in its transformative...

read more

6. Social Complexities: Part I

pdf iconDownload PDF (1.6 MB)
pp. 181-218

This chapter and chapter 7 present a continental overview of archaeological cases relating to the multifaceted topic “the origins of social complexity.” This topic has a long history in social theory, from Enlightenment philosophers such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Thomas Hobbes to nineteenth-century...

read more

7. Social Complexities: Part II

pdf iconDownload PDF (2.0 MB)
pp. 219-260

This chapter continues the discussion of the emergence of social complexity begun in chapter 6 but shifts to an examination of three regions: the coast of Peru, the Central Andean highlands, and the Titicaca Basin (figure 7.2). As discussed in chapter 1, these regions have been the focus of a great...

read more

8. Regional Florescences

pdf iconDownload PDF (2.1 MB)
pp. 261-308

As noted repeatedly, the prehistory of South America is characterized by diversity, and that continued to be the case even after the development of sedentism and agricultural economies. There is a tendency to view South American prehistory as if the development of agrarian states and empires...

read more

9. Age of States and Empires

pdf iconDownload PDF (2.9 MB)
pp. 309-366

When Spaniards invaded western South America in the early sixteenth century, they encountered one of the most impressive civilizations in the ancient world: the Inca Empire. Francisco Pizarro and his men captured the Inca king, Atahualpa, and began the process of conquest. Although the fall of...

read more

10. Twilight of Prehistory

pdf iconDownload PDF (2.3 MB)
pp. 367-416

The last five centuries of South American prehistory were marked by fundamentally different social and political experiences across the continent, a previously unseen disparity in the scales of social life (figure 10.2). For example, along the coast of Tierra del Fuego, groups of mobile hunters and gatherer...

read more

11. Empire of the Four Quarters

pdf iconDownload PDF (3.7 MB)
pp. 417-470

Between approximately AD 1400 and 1535, a regional chiefdom in the southern Peruvian Andes expanded throughout western South America and in the process created the largest state in the pre-Columbian Americas. Its members called their empire Tawantinsuyu, which means the “four (tawa) portions...

read more

12. After Prehistory

pdf iconDownload PDF (1.2 MB)
pp. 471-496

Within a decade of Columbus’s voyages to the Indies, Europe’s attempt to understand the native people of South America began, an effort deeply entangled with the goals of conquest, subjugation, and domination. It was neither a dispassionate intellectual quest nor a particularly well-informed one...

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (113.6 KB)
pp. 497-498

Any text that attempts to summarize the prehistory of a continent is necessarily based on the kindness of strangers and friends. First, I thank the hundreds of scholars who conducted the archaeological investigations discussed...

Illustration Credits

pdf iconDownload PDF (143.9 KB)
pp. 499-510


pdf iconDownload PDF (191.2 KB)
pp. 511-530

E-ISBN-13: 9781607323334
E-ISBN-10: 1607323338
Print-ISBN-13: 9781607323327
Print-ISBN-10: 160732332X

Page Count: 496
Illustrations: 261 figures
Publication Year: 2014

Research Areas


UPCC logo

Subject Headings

  • Indians of South America -- Antiquities.
  • Paleo-Indians -- South America.
  • Prehistoric peoples -- South America.
  • Cultural pluralism -- South America -- History -- To 1500.
  • Social archaeology -- South America.
  • South America -- Antiquities.
  • You have access to this content
  • Free sample
  • Open Access
  • Restricted Access