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Aquatic Resources and Their Early Exploitation in the Tropics: A comparison
1.1 Development of this paper
1.2 Exploiting the aquatic resources as an adaptation to tropical environments
2.Environmental data
3. Comparison between sites in Colombia, Panama, Ecuador, Peru and Brazil
3.1 Ecological zones exploited: Distance of the sites from the aquatic source and a summary of taxa from these habitats.
3.2 Fishing strategies: Archaeological evidence of fish exploitation
4. Fish collection and food preparation practices
4.1 Ethnographic data
5. Middle Research theories
6. Discussion
7. References

The study of fish and shellfish exploitation by early inhabitants has been a focus of archaeological research since the early 20th century. Earlier studies have provided a huge amount of data to advance the understanding of aquatic adaptations in tropical environments(Willey 1971; Voorhies 1978).

1.1 Development of the paper
This essay concentrates on some sites in Colombia, Panama, Ecuador, Peru and Brazil to compare the paleo-environmental, archaeological and ethnographic data relating to the exploitation of aquatic ecosystems, mainly coastal in the Tropics. I chose these sites based first of all on their detailed zooarchaeological data and secondly on the accessibility of written material.
My purpose is to gain a general idea about the type of the aquatic resources exploited in tropical environments. Furthermore, I would generate a set of expectations about the material that could be found in a tropical site linked to the exploitation of aquatic remains. I chose to focus on artefacts and faunal remains sources such as my "analytical units" to discern patterns of exploitation.
First, I will present a summary of environmental data focusing on the changes in sea level, tectonic movement and sea temperature, and how these changes affect the landscape. Then, I focus on the relationship between human populations and their environment.
Second, I sum up the material evidence relating to the exploitation of shellfish and fish in early archaeological sites (10000- 1800 BP).
Third, I present the results of my search in the ethnographic literature about how population hunt and cook aquatic resources in tropical environments today. I concentrate on some examples of investigations that were conducted in the Amazonian area, focusing on methods of fishing, the description of the tools that used, the fishing season, the habitat and the species that are collected.
Fourth, I mention some of the recent Middle research theories related to aquatic resources.
And finally, I present a discussion of the patterns that could be discerned at least looked for on the basis of archaeologically information extracted my first four points.

1.2 Exploiting the aquatic resources as an adaptation to tropical environments
Scholars have presented conflicting positions on the exploitation of aquatic resources and their role in prehistoric diets. Erlandson (2001) summarizes the prevalent ideas on aquatic resource use in the form of two different theories that parallel with the stereotypes that some scientists also have about adaptations to the Tropical Rainforest(Putz 1988):
a. "Garden of Eden" theorists, principally Sauer(1966), who said that aquatic habitats store a huge quantity of food and that these resources are easily collected without a complicated technology. Carneiro(1995) and Oyuela-Caycedo (1996)with the same point of view , suggested that aquatic resources played an important role in the establishment of large and sedentary villages, the development of food production and the emergence of chiefdoms.
b. The opposite theory is called by Erlandson "the Gates of Hell” and was principally developed by Osborn(1977) expresses the idea that shellfish and other aquatic foods are marginal resources. They are described as small resources expensive to harvest or process. Also they are poor sources of nutrition with relatively irregular or variable distribution in the space, and finally they required high technological investments to access them.

Although, we do not have enough data about the productivity of aquatic ecosystem for early occupations and taking the risk to make analogies, the sixteen-century chronics report for the zones that exploited aquatic resources were densely populated areas. The fish, turtles, molluscs and crabs were an important and abundant element of a diet and easy to collect(Sauer 1966; Cooke 1994; Cooke 1994; Cooke 1998). The Spanish also described in that areas had markets where Indians exchanged agricultural, sea, and river products (Jopling 1993). These are exemplified in the following passages:
“There are in the large rivers fisheries of good fish” or “This land and province of Paris located in the coast of South seas, the entire coast is included is good, because is sandy and have large fisheries, such as fish and shellfish…” and
“ At this time many chorigaras indians went and came with crabs and fish to obtain maize at the central market of way that they walked along the streets of the central market sold their merchandises and still in the plaza they obtained and sold them” (Jopling 1993)

2. Environmental Data

The aquatic environments, estuaries and rivers, that I am considering in this paper comprise the Eastern Pacific ocean specifically Panama, Ecuador and Peru and the Caribbean Sea bordering on Colombia and Atlantic Ocean bordering Brazil. The Eastern Pacific along Panama to Ecuador is highly variable and seasonal with rich open-sea fish species inhabiting it but a poor development of coral reef(Jackson 1997). It is a system characterized by tropical waters, extensive estuaries and mangrove swamps in a patchy distribution. The high tidal ranges produce a complex and unstable geomorphologic and floristic composition i.e. mangroves.
In contrast, the Caribbean coast is characterized by fish species that are concentrated in coral reefs. The Caribbean exhibits variability in the amount of rainfall. The eastern sector is semiarid, with low rainfall and few permanent streams. In contrast, the western sector receives far heavier precipitation and vast marshes exist around the main rivers(Oyuela-Caycedo 1996; Jackson 1997).

South of Ecuador, the Peruvian and Chilean coasts are bathed by a temperate or cold current with localized upwellings of nutrients that support a rich diversity of sea life.
The patterns of ocean currents affecting the Pacific coast are more variable than on the Caribbean coast. The main source of this variability is the Equatorial counter current. The North and South Equatorial currents flowing to the west bind this current. This system, however, is susceptible to periodic instability such as El Niño events, which involve changes in rainfall, sea temperatures and upwelling. These perturbations have repercussion for biological productivity in the Tropics(Jackson 1997).

It is important to consider that changes in the environment in the past could have influenced the spatial distribution of aquatic resources in the Tropics. As a consequence, pre-Columbian inhabitants may have had to develop new subsistence strategies to obtain these resources and to relocate their settlements according to the food availability. Also, these changes in the environmental landscapes may have affected the visibility and survival of archaeological sites (Erlandson 2001). In the South American Tropics, two environmental changes have profoundly affected aquatic resources in the past: eustatic stabilization worldwide of sea levels and the gradual cooling of ocean waters.

First, the stabilization of the worldwide seal levels at around 7000 BP, caused sedimentation in coastal rivers systems, and that, coincide with tectonic movements(Clary 1984; Archila 1993; Suguio 1993; Oyuela-Caycedo 1996).
Sea level fluctuations have an enormous impact on the formation of estuaries and could explain their origin in Northwestern South America. When there are wet climates and high sea levels, an increase in the sediment flux in coastal systems promotes widespread deposition of marine sediments and the formation geological features. In contrast, low levels result in episodes of erosion and non-deposition of sediments. Consequently the intensity of aquatic resources use at any given site should fluctuate depending on its proximity to the shoreline, which in turn depends on sea level fluctuations(Oyuela-Caycedo 1996).

Some examples of local change have been documented in Panama in sites located on Parita Bay(Clary 1984), and in sites located in the Magdalena- Cauca- San Jorge watershed of Colombia(Archila 1993). A model of Holocene advances and regressions, proposed by Temple University scholars in the 1980s for Panamian archaeological sites located on Parita Bay, suggests that the deltas have advanced toward the sea since 4000 B.P, with sedimentation occurring faster in the central part of the delta (Santa María river) than in the periphery (Grande, Parita and La Villa rivers). Researchers have estimated a progression rate was 0.5 kilometres per 1000 years(Clary 1984). For the Caribbean watershed in Colombia, the sedimentation rate is estimated at 3.8 mm per year for the last 1500 years. These transgression episodes have displaced mangrove vegetation overtime(Archila 1993).

Van der Hammen(1974) has proposed that there is a close relationship between lower sea levels and savannas in the Quaternary. According to pollen records lower temperatures characterized the Pleistocene such that the rain forest limit was at 2000 masl, and mangrove vegetation was not dominant along the coast. Instead, savanna environments dominated this stage in the palynological sequence. In the early Holocene the weather was warmer than nowadays and mangrove environments were dominant in the record. Temperatures stabilized at their current level 3000 years ago (Morley 2000).

Second, during the early Holocene, prior to 5000 BP, the shores of northern Peru were apparently bathed by warm tropical waters. A transition from tropical to temperate-environment animals is found at several sites around 5000 BP on the Peruvian coast (Reitz 2001)(Reitz and Sandweiss 2001). The shift probably reflects a cooling of ocean temperatures in the region at that time. Reitz and Sandweiss (2001) suggest that this phenomenon might be due to differences in ocean circulation between 8000 and 5000 B.P. They give three posible explanations: first, that the interval between La Niña (cooler oceanic conditions) and El Niño was much shorter than in modern times, second, that the duration of the warm part of the cycle lasted for a longer period of time than it does today, and third, that the Equatorial counter current circulated further south than it does today with the waters of the north coast being warmer than they are today and the impact of El Niño more forceful further south than it is today.

Evidence from the Santa Elena Peninsula(Byrd 1976) indicates that the area experienced both seasonal and, at irregular, yearly intervals, minor climatic fluctuations, as it does today. According to the data, these would have resulted from relatively slight shifts in the position of the ocean currents.

3.Comparison Between Some Sites in Colombia, Panama, Peru, Ecuador and Brazil
I selected some examples of investigations that were conducted in Colombia, Panama, Peru, Ecuador and Brazil (figures 1 and 2), focusing in their distance from the sea or river, the species that were collected, the habitat used by these species, the inferred methods of fishing, the tools that were used in relation to fishing activities. My reasons for choosing these sites are: the availability of zooarchaeological data for each site and the availability publishing reports. In Panama the sites are: Corona Shelter(Cooke 1979), Ladrones Cave(Ranere 1978), Aguadulce Shelter(Cooke 1979), Vampiros Cave(Cooke 1988; Pearson 2003), Cerro Mangote(McGimsey 1956; Cooke 1988), Monagrillo(Ranere 1978; Hansell 1979; Cooke 1998), La Mula-Sarigua(Hansell 1988). In Colombia the sites are: Puerto Hormiga(Archila 1993; Oyuela-Caycedo 1996), Barlovento (Archila 1993; Oyuela-Caycedo 1996), Puerto Chacho(Legros 1992), Monsú (Reichel - Dolmatoff 1985), San Jacinto(Oyuela-Caycedo 1996), Momil(Reichel - Dolmatoff 1956). In Brazil the sites studied are: Caverna da Pedra Pintada (Roosevelt 1996), Jaboticabaeira II(De Blasis 1998; De Blasis 1999), Forte Marechal Luz(Bryan 1993). In Peru: Ring Site(Sandweiss and RA. 1989), Paloma(Reitz 1988), Ostrea Base Camp(Reitz 2001), Quebrada Tacahuay(deFrance 2001). And finally, the Ecuadorian sites are: Salango(Stahl 2003), Valdivia(Byrd 1976) and Las Vegas (OGSE-80)(Byrd 1976; Stothert 1985).

Figure 1. Archaeological sites in South America

Figure 2: Archaeological sites in Panama and Colombia.
In table 1, I list the name of the site, their date of occupation, their distance to the sea or river, the predominant aquatic fauna, other vertebrate fauna found in the site and the probable habitats exploited. Table 2 described the probable methods of fishing used according to the habitat and aquatic fauna taxa. In addition, I mention the tools associated with fishing activities and some additional observations for each site.

Table 1

Site Distance from the sea or river (km) Date Aquatic taxon Other fauna Habitat
Cerro Mangote 1.5 to 5.5. Past 7000 BP to 6000 BP Arius cookei, Arius seemani, Arius kessleri,(Sea Catfishes) Dormitator latifrontis(Sleeper), Selenaspis dowii(Brown catfish) Odocoileus virginianus(White tail deer), Canis familiariEmotion: dog Mangrove/ Estuary
Ladrones cave 25. Present day 6500 BP Ophioscion typicus, Ariidae (Sea Catfishes), Crabs and shells Odocoileus(Deer), Dasypus novemcinctus(armadillo)
Aguadulce Shelter Actual 18 but at time site was occupied, active coastlines was several kilometres closer and close saltwater channels 6550 to 4450 BP Freshwater turtles Kinosternon and Trachemys. Loraciidae, Ariidae (Sea Catfishes). Rhamdia, Pimelodella, Hoplias microlepis, Loricariids Rodents, rabbit, armadillo, amphibian, lizard, racoon, snake Freshwater and brackish streams. In-shore waters
Corona Shelter 55 (Montijo gulf). Present day 5980 BP Ophioscion typicus, Ariidae(Sea Catfishes), Marine shells Dasypus novemcinctus (armadillo)
Vampiros Cave 2 (In the past, the site was an island?) 3800+/120 BP Caranx caballus(jack), Chaetodipterus zonatus(Pacific spadefish), Albula sp(Bonefish), Sphoeroides annulatus(poisoning?)(Bullseye puffer) Dasypus novemcinctus(armadillo) Mud flat/sandy and shallow water species offshore but enter mangrove
La Mula-Sarigua Vis a vis coastline (Past) 2950 B.P Ariidae(Sea Catfishes), Carangidae(Jacks), Tetradontidae(Poisoning ? Puffer), Scianidae(drums), Sphyraenidae(Barracuda). Ostrea spp, (Oyster) Anadara grandis (ark shell), Natica unifasciata(moonsnail), Malea ringens Sea turtle Bufo marinus (Frog), Dayspus? (armadillo), Odocoileus (Deer) In shore, estuaries and/or shallow waters
Monagrillo Vis a vis coastline (Past) 2750 to 2010 BP Polydactylus spp(Threadfins) and Cynoscion(Sea trout), Cathorops furthii, Ostrea spp,(Oyster) Tivela sp(Venus clam) Odocoyleus(Deer), Dasyprocta punctata(Agouti), Sivilagus (Rabbit), Dasypus(Armadillo) Lagoon, mud flat/sandy and shallow water species
San Jacinto Closer to creek (Past) 5940 +/- 60 BP freshwater mollusk: Pomacea sp, Doryssa sp, Anodontiles sp landsnails: Drymaeus sp. Fish Randia guatemalensis, Scualus acanthias Mazama sp(Brocket deer), Allouata seniculus (monkey) Riverine, shallow waters in a forest to wooded savanna to savanna
Puerto Hormiga 2.5 to 3 (Present day) 5040 +/-70 to 4502 BP Pitar sp(Venus Clam), Ostrea sp( Oyster), Pseudemis scripta callirostris, Podocnemis lewyana, Plagioscion sp, Pseudoplatystoma sp Rodents Similar to Puerto Chacho: shallow waters, sandy beach and mangrove. Freshwater.
Monsú 3(Present day) 4270 B.P +/- 80 Turtles. Strombus gigas(Conch), Ampullarius sp and Melongena melongena Deer, armadillo, jaguar, monkeys, crabs Estuary and riverine
Barlovento 0.3(Present day) 3510 BP to 2980 BP Melongena melongena, Chione histrionica(Venus clam), Cryptolgramma braziliana. Chaetodipterus sp Cardisoma sp Shallow waters, estuary and muddy beach
Momil Closer to lake (?) 2150 +/-60 BP Strombus sp(Conch), freshwater fish: Prochilodus magdalenae, Geophasys sterdacheir.Freshwater turtle Caiman sp, Crocodylus sp, Odocoileus sp (Deer), Mazama sp.(rocket deer) H. capybara Riverine, shallow waters.
Caverna da Pedra Pintada 3 away Amazon's stream (Present day) 11200 B.P Pleurodira. Pearly mussels. Arapaima gigas (Pirarucu), Hoplias malabaricus (traira), Catfishes, Cichilds and Characins. Cryptodira, Testudinidae. Bufonidae (Frogs) Riverine
Forte Marechal Luz N.D. 4350 B.P Lagocephalus laevigatus (smooth puffer), Archosargus probatocephalus (porgy), Myliobatis (eagle ray), Whale, Chelonia sp (sea turtle). Ostrea spp pricipally Ostrea brasiliana(Oysters), Anomalocardia brasiliana(Venus clam) Tayassu albirastris (Peccary), Cuniculus paca (paca) Shallow sandy, mangrove swamp and ocean abutting on rock cliff and sand ridges
Jaboticabaeira II Sea level was 1 meter higher on Quaternary. Lagoon closer to the site 2880 to 1805 BP Anomalocardia brasiliana(Venus clam), Mytella(Mussel). Micropogonias furnieri(Drum fish), Ariideos(Sea Catfishes) Tayassu sp(Peccary), Murideo(Rats) Estuary and shallow waters.
Quebrada Tacahuay 1(Past) 10000 B.P Engraulidae(Anchovies), Clupeidae(Herrings), Mugil sp.(lisas) Choromytilus chorus, Thais sp(Dye shell) Pinnipedia, Otariidae (Sea lions) Sula sp(Booby), Phalacrocorax sp(++),Phalacrocorax bouganvillii (++)(Cormorants), Rodentia, Shallow offshore waters
Paloma 3.5? 7700 and 5000 B.P Engraulidae(Anchovies)i, Clupeidae(Herrings), Cynoscion spp(Sea trout), Carangidae(Jack), Scianea deliciosa(Drum). Mytilidae(Mussel), Protothaca thaca (Venus clam).Crabs Otariidae(Sea lions) Unidentifiable mammals, roedents and birds. In other samples: Ateles sp.(Monkey), Lama guanicoe, Odoicoileus virginianus(White tail deer) Inshore, shallow waters along the beaches. Rocky areas along intertidal shore
Ring Site 0.20 to 0.25 (Past) 7675+/- 60 B.P Sciaena deliciosa, Sciana gilberti (Drums). Barnacles, crabs, echinoderm. Mesoderma donacium, Chroromytilus chorus.Ariidae(Sea catfishes), Epinephelus spp(Grouper), Caranx spp(Jack)., andBairdiella spp.(Drum) Sea otter (Lutra felina), Pinnipeda (Sea lions) Podiceps major(Great grebe), Pelecanus spp(Pelican)p(Bobby) Near shallow shore cooler waters, Coastal marsh, rocky and sandy habitats. Estuarine or tropical habitats
Ostra Base Camp Present day 5 6250 to 5450 B.P Argopecten circularis(Scallop), Cerithidea mazatlanica(Horn shell), Chione subrugosa(Venus clam), Ariidae(Catfishes), Carchanidae(Shark), Mugil sp (Lisa),Sciaena spp.(Drum)(temperate water), Chelonidae(Sea turtle) Pelecanus spp(Pelican), Phalacrocorax sp(Cormorant), Estuarine or tropical habitat. Temperate water
Las Vegas (OGSE-80) Present day 3.5 9800 to 7150 B.P Anadara tuberculosa(ark shell). Carcharhinidae(Shark),Ariidae(Sea Catfishes), Centropomus(Snook), Cheloniidae(Sea turtle) Odocoileus(Deer), Mazama(Brocket deer), Dusicyon sechurae, Psittacidae (Parrot) Shallow waters, Estuarine
Valdivia Present day 2.25/4.5 5000 to 4000 B.P Ariidae(Sea Catfishes), Centropomus sp(Snook) Odocoileus virginianus(White tail deer), Mazama sp(Brocket deer), Tayassu (peccary) Inshore and offshore waters
Salango Present day

Table 2
Site Method of fish Artefacts Other
Cerro Mangote Land-based fishing methods and throw-nets. Some were taken by hand in desiccating salt-flat pools. No objects have been attributed to fishing practices
Ladrones cave Gill nets No objects have been attributed to fishing practices Smoked fish, trade?
Aguadulce Shelter Hook and line, throw-net (atarraya?) or hand? No objects have been attributed to fishing practices Wider catchment area or Exchange networks?
Corona shelter Gill nets No objects have been attributed to fishing practices Smoked fish, Shell ornaments, and trade?
Vampiros Cave Gill nets and wicker traps No objects have been attributed to fishing practices Low number of burnt bones, ash layers and postholes suggested that was a fishermen's encampment to prepare fish to transport to other sites
La Mula-Sarigua ? Hook and line, traps and/ or net No objects have been attributed to fishing practices Depopulated? At the end of 1st millennium B.C. due to the formation of alvina
Monagrillo Gill nets and traps No objects have been attributed to fishing practices
San Jacinto Throw-nets? Traps? Bow and arrow? No objects have been attributed to fishing practices Alluvial terrace
Puerto Chacho Possible hook, traps, barrier No objects have been attributed to fishing practices Alluvial terrace
Puerto Hormiga Throw-nets? Traps? Bow and arrow? No objects have been attributed to fishing practices
Monsú Throw-nets? Traps? Bow and arrow? No objects have been attributed to fishing practices Hoe
Barlovento Throw-nets? Traps? Bow and arrow? No objects have been attributed to fishing practices
Momil Throw-nets? Traps? Bow and arrow? No objects have been attributed to fishing practices
Caverna da Pedra Pintada Apiranga (Mouriri apiranga) used as bait? No objects have been attributed to fishing practices
Forte Marechal Luz Catching deep water species, net catching and harpoon catching Bi-pointed projectile points of bird bone and bone fishhooks. Conus sp, Oliva sp used for jewellery, net sinkers and net gauge made in stone. Net gauge made in whale bone Many occupational level: Kitchen, cemetery
Jaboticabaeira II Harpoon catching Bi-pointed projectile points of bone Many occupational level: Kitchen, cemetery
Quebrada Tacahuay Nets ? Net-mesh gauges (polished rib fragment of marine mammal) Specialized coastal bird extraction
Paloma Hooks? Nets? Scoops? No objects have been attributed to fishing practices Bone spider monkey: exchange network
Ring Site Use hook and line, hook and harpoon Barb of a compound fishhook. Heavier shells with holes might have served as net weights. One bone harpoon
Ostra Base Camp Hook and line and cast nets for tropical taxa. Larger hooks in temperate waters A broken shell fishhook. Possible cigar-shaped weights and stone shanks for composite fishhooks (Ostra Planed/Incised pebbles) Environmental change?
Las Vegas (OGSE-80) Nets? Hook and line? Poisoning? Composite fishhooks made of bone Bone spider monkey: exchange network. Burials
Valdivia Baited hooks and lines Shellfish fishhooks
Salango ? Hook and line, traps and/ or net No objects have been attributed to fishing practices Domestic cavies

The first trend observed is: fishing artefacts weren’t found in most of the Colombian or Panamanian archaeological sites. In contrast, Ecuadorian, Peruvian and Brazilian sites contain fishing artefacts. This difference may be related to the dates of occupation and differential faunal resource availability. The second trend detected is: earlier populations exploited a heterogeneous range of niches and foraging was the way to acquire aquatic resources. The third trend is: the use of aquatic resources was not limited to coastal sites, which could be a result of changes in coastal geomorphology or trade activities. And finally, the fourth trend is: the exploitation of estuarine as well as non-estuarine taxa, suggesting that the resources were caught relatively close to land.

4. Fishing Methods and Food Preparation Practices
4.1 Ethnographic Data
4.1.1Methods and habitats

First, I review some ethnohistorical references about the exploitation of aquatic resources. Cooke suggests that some fishing methods reported by ethnographic research on the Guaymi and Kuna may have been used in Pre-Contact times. The sources mention that fishing along the larger rivers and the Pacific and Caribbean littoral of Panama was practiced with boats, thrownets and stationary intertidal fish traps during the dry season and occasionally at night. On the Pearl Islands, for example, fish weirs were described as semicircular stone structures on the rocky intertidal shores(Linné 1929; Cooke 1994).
Carl Sauer quoted Oviedo, Padre Pedro Simon and Ferdinand as describing Pre-Columbian inhabitants who used lines, harpoons, fishhooks, poison and pens to exploit marine resources in the Caribbean sea(Sauer 1966).

In the Handbook of South American Indians, many authors describe fishing as a seasonal activity in shallow waters during the dry season and the beginning of rainy season. Also, the task could be carried out by individuals (men only) or groups (including women and children). Fishing techniques employed many kinds of tools made of different types of materials. For example: steel hooks and lines, bows and arrows made of wood, spears, weirs set with basket traps, hand nets and poison. Worms and berries were used as bait(Steward 1963). This is exemplified in the following passage:
"Living by the ocean and numerous rivers along the Brazilian coast, the Tupinamba had access to large supplies of seafood. During certain times of the year they lived almost exclusively on fish. After the rainy season, the Tupinamba of Maranhao left their villages for several weeks to camp along the shore near shallow lagoons that swarmed with fish. Enormous quantities of parati fish (Mugil brasiliensis) were also caught while swimming upstream to spawn. This month was, therefore, a propitious time for war expeditions, the rivers yielding a reliable supply of food. Shoals of fish were driven into empty canoes by striking the water with sticks. Fish, if numerous, were also dipped out with sieves and gourds, especially at night when attracted by torchlight. Men armed with fishnets formed a barrier against which fish were driven by striking the water. Rivers and coves were often closed with weirs made of branches or with dams of stones. Fishermen standing on the dam scooped up the fish with dip nets. Funnel-shaped baskets were placed in running water at narrow passages where the fish were forced to enter them and be caught. The Tupinamba were skilful at shooting either with arrows tipped with several hardwood prongs or with harpoon arrows. They also killed fish by poisoning calm waters with the juice of several creepers, such as timbo (Dahlestedia pinnata) and the tingui (Tephrosia toxicaria). Native hooks, which disappeared rapidly after European contact, were made of thorns; fishlines of tucuma (Bactris setosa) fibers. The Tupinamba were said to be such good swimmers that they could even dive and catch fish with their hands" .
I employ ethnographic examples from communities in Latin America to show extract systematic similarities and differences concerning the issues relating to fishing. Most of the examples came from the Amazonian region, specifically the upper and lower Varzea and Blackwater rivers (Goldman 1963; Smith 1981; Jackson 1983; Chernela 1993; Vieco 1999; Castillo 2001).

At least twelve fishing methods were employed in the Amazonian area and were described systematically by ethnographers. These methods are roughly grouped as nets (seines, gill nets, cast nets), projectiles (gigs, harpoons, arrows), hooks (trotlines, hand-line, pole), explosives, by hand, fishing facilities and piscicides. I summarized the fishing methods in table 3:

Table 3
Methods ***, ©, £, ¥ § Description and materials Season Habitat Species Observations
*Lampara seines *A large fishnet that hangs vertically, with floats at the top and weights at the bottom. They are made cotton or tucuma palm (Astrocaryum sp.) fibers *Employed from June to September (Wet season) *In the Amazon river this method is used only near the banks, since the migrating schools stay close to shore where the current is slower. *Pirarucú (Arapaima gigas) *Few Indian tribes appear to have used seines. The Carajá of Araguaia river in para used passive seines, which were made of fibers from Cecropia sp and were strong enough to prevent the escape of a large fish such as Pirarucú.
*Beach Seine (arrastradeira): *It is made of similar material to that lampara seines. The major difference is that it is much longer *December to February (Dry season) *To capture jaraqui (Semaprochilodus insignis), as they migrate down black rivers to spawn (lay eggs) along the banks of the Amazon. *jaraqui (Semaprochilodus insignis)
*Gill nets (malhadeiras) *They were about 6m long and 1m deep, with stretch mesh varying from 20 to 30 cm, a variety of floats are tied to the gill nets, such as cut-up stems of aroid aninga (Montrichardia arborescens). *Gillnets are employed year-round (day and night) *A variety of habitats including the banks of the rivers, flooded forests, and lakes *Pirarucú *Gill nets are rarely reported as important in the fishing technology of Amazonian aborigines. The Carajá made nets from vines and the inner bark of Cecropia.
*Cast Nets: Tarrafas¥Net fishing *Rounded net.¥ Net woven from palm fiber (tucum) about 1 or 2 m in diameter. *The dry period, when fish are more concentrated in lakes, it is the season for using cast nets.¥July to September and March to April (Dry season) *Lakes.¥ Between rocks in rapids *The small and medium sized fish such as aruanã, curimatá, tucunaré, cará roxo (Cichlasoma severum) and young pirarucú. Fishermen also used cast nets in rivers to capture mapará, which are used to bait large hooks for catching piraíba (Brachyplatystoma) is captured in lakes. *They were not employed by Amazonian aborigines but were introduced in colonial times. A small version of tarrafa is used along the banks of the Amazon to capture shrimps
*Gigs©Flecha¥Spear *They are made from resistant hardwoods such as paracuúba (Lecointea amazonica); three or less commonly two-pronged lance is firmly tied to the thicker end of the shaft.© Three-pronged lance tied to the thicker end of the shaft, it is made (Lecointea amazonica)¥Wooden spear with multiple-pronged heads *The best times for gigs are cloudy or moonless nights, in decanted water in sluggish channels, and in lakes and varzea forest during the high water season (Wet season).©Employed at night¥Dry season at night *When many fish are resting. Varzea forest is the favoured habitat for using gigs since many fish, including highly regarded tucunaré, carauaçú, cará roxo, and traíra (Hoplias malabaricus), rest near the surface by submerged logs and branches.¥ Shallow water *tucunaré, carauaçú, cará roxo, and traíra (Hoplias malabaricus)© Leporinus cf bimaculatus, Boulengerella maculata, Prochilodus nigracans, Hemisorubim platyrhynchus, Osteooglossum bicirrhosum¥ Tucunare (Cichla ocelarris), Aracu (Leporinus sp), Cara ( Geophagus surinamensis) * It is no clear whether Amazonian tribes used gigs in pre-contact times. In 1852 at Alter do Chão on the Tapajos, Indians speared fish at night using flaming bundles of green bark stripped from palm fronds. There aren’t archaeological evidences. These tridents are using at night Gigs are not used in the Amazon proper because of the turbidity of the water. In addition, floodplain lakes at low water are shunned because waves stir up bottom sediments and because is no flooded forest; also gigs are not used when it rains.
*Harpoons©Arpón *©The shaft is fashioned from paracuúba or comaceba (Lecointea amazonica). They have wooden or bone tips in pre-contact times. *October to February (Dry season) *Harpoons fishermen operate singly in lakes or channels, at lower water, and always during day *©They catch pirarucú or paiche (Arapaima gigas) and tambaquí. *The harpoon method does not appear to be very important in the fishing technology of Amazonian Indians. The Caraja, the Cashinawa and the Witoto used harpoons (ethnography). .
*Bows and arrows *Bows are made at least 5 different woods, but the favorite is the dark red ipadu pau d’arco. The arrows and bows are used like a small version of harpoon. § Cubeo men employed this technique.¥Wanano used the shaft and point made of wood *Windy or rainy days are not suitable for bow and arrow fishing because they can’t see the fish. Used year- round.¥ Wanano used this technique on lower or shallow water season (March-April/ July-September, dry season) at daylight *They are mainly used in decanted lakes, floodplain forests and channels. Lakes that be adjacent to terra firme and receive significant quantities of black or clear water are also favoured.§ Fishing in shallows¥Shallow water *Cara roxo, Pirahna mujcurra.¥Leporihus sp *Bows and arrows were widely employed by aborigines in pre-contact times. ¥Using baiting techniques as fruit (Coumaguinensis), manioc paste or termites.
*Hooks: *Fishermen employ 4 main types of suspended, or near the surface, trotlines.§ Cubeo men employed this technique in a small canoe. *All four types of suspended trotline are used only during the high-water season from February to August (Wet season). *Floating vegetation, Varzea trees. *Each one is designed to catch particular species: Pseudid frogs (Lysapsus limellus) abundant in areas of floating vegetation are used as bait to catch aruanã, carauaçú, matrinchão and piranha caju. Second type used fruit of varzea trees as a bait, Neolobatia suprea, Myrcia fallax, and Mouricia cf. ulei to catch Tambaqui and aracu. Third type is designed to catch tracajá turtles (Pocnemis unifilis) nad the fruit caiembé is used as a bait. The fourth type of espinhel, designed to catch piracurú, using tamoatá or jijú as bait.
*Bottom trotlines:©Espinel¥ Drag line *© A long rope tied to the trees, with 2 or more hooks.¥ Heavy-duty fishing line with a large hook attached to a wooden float. *Grozeiras are employed during low water from July to January, during the day and night (Dry season).¥ July to August *Lower water.©Lower and High Water *Mapará (Hypophthalmus edentatus) are the preferred bait for a large catfish such as piraíba, pirarara, pacamum and dourado.© Pseudoplatystoma tigrinum, Callophysus macropterus, Astronotus ocellatus, Paulicea lutkeni, Brachyplastylom filamentosum, Hypodoras sp¥Piraiba (Brachyplatystoma filamentosum) *The catch is usually higher per man-hour.¥ Variety of baits.
*Hand-lines© Volantín ¥ Hook and lines *However some groups learned to fashion hooks from bone or wood to catch fish.© A long rope with a float¥Steel hook and a line *Hand-line is conducted during the day and at night, all year-round, with the peak occurring after the flood in June until October during the piracema (June until early October).¥ Year round ©When the river is flooding. ©Principally big catfishes: Ageneiosus brevifilis, Leiarius marmoratus, Pyrrhualina laeta * It is no clear whether Amazonian tribes used hooks for fishing in pre-contact times. For example Cioni of the Putumayo baited harwood hoks with larvae or fruit of Cecropia sp. Material perishable, the archaeological record doesn’t have evidence. ¥ Using bait as fruits (Apocynaceae), manioc past, worms or insects.
*Poles©Barandilla¥Snare fishing *The pole-fishing method (caniço) is widespread in the Itacoatiara area. A thin pole is fashioned from a branch of Duguetia sp. (tree from terra firme)©It is a long stick made of Heisteria cyanocarpa.¥ Flexible sapling at the river edge is pulled down by a string attached to a triggered line with a baited hook *Used year round.¥ Used year round *Open lakes with isolated trees.© Lower and High water *The main species caught are tucunaré, aruanã, cará roxo, jacundá, piranha, pirapitinga and tambaqui.©Hoplosternum thoracatum, Triportheus elongates, Myleus rubripinnis, Hoplias malabaricus,Brycon sp., Pimelodella cf. omatus, Acestrorhynchus falcatus, Centromochous heckelii, Calceus erythrurus *This method is apparently not widely used by aborigines before the arrival of Europeans. The Tiriyó of the Paru river used ant mandibles and talons from the harply eagle (Harpia harpyja) as hooks. The Jivaro and the Tukuna, acquired metal hooks. Shrimp are the main bait
*¥Piscicides, ©Barbasco *Using Paullinia pinnata, Hura crepitans, Tephrosia toxicaria, Clibadium sylvestre or Serjania sp. Later the fish is collected with baskets.© Guaca (Clibadium asperum) and barbasco (Lonchocarpus nicou)§ Employed this technique in fishing parties.¥ Used poison vegetable material mixed with clay *Only at low water are channels and ponds.§ Shallow pond.¥ Close off drying streams with branches in enclosed areas ©Erythrinus erythrinus, Charax gibbosus, Dianema urostriata *The use of both wild and domesticated plants for drugging fish is widespread among Amazonian tribes.© Indian technique forbidden by the Goverment.
Basket traps§¥ §Collective fishing¥ Cylindrical trap basket with a bamboo barrier §Dry season § "Caño"¥ Between large rock in rapids in rising water areas of high ground in flooded forests §Household head may have traditional rights to a "Caño".
Fishing Facilities¥ Wing Trap¥Platform ¥ Large stationary trap set on a rocky substratum. It is felled logs arrangement into u-shaped capture chamber.¥ Large platform trap ¥ Margin of the river or island point.¥Over a waterfall ¥Catfishes
Hand fishing¥ ¥Hand or Machete ¥March ¥Flooded forest
Snare£ In Kuna Yala, the lobsters are caught with snares by free divers, mask and fins, and diving out of small canoes. Neither SCUBA nor traps are used Coral reef Panulirus argus At some locations theyMaintains lobster alive in sea-water pools or pens,

The aquatic resource acquisition in these groups showed that there is a seasonal pattern and the level of the water affects it. Men executed most of the fishing techniques, which are designed to exploit a variable area and fish species in a particular condition. Furthermore, a few methods were not employed by Amazonian pre-Columbian inhabitants and were introduced in Colonial times; but a huge number of them were widely employed by aborigines in pre-Contact times. Finally, some of the tools employed in fishing activities are made of perishables materials.

4.1.2 Fish: Consumption and Preparation. Fish Preparation

There are numerous ethnohistoric and ethnographic references about the preservation of fish and shellfish in the humid tropical regions. For example, resources that were not eaten at once were smoked and dried over fireson "barbacoas"(Sauer 1966). When the Cubeo Indians finish a fishing party, the fish are dried and smoked for a number of days on wooden frames arranged outside the house(Goldman 1963). The Aguano Ucayali people, who consume fish, turtle and river mammals during the historic period, used the salted fish as an important trade item and extracted grease from turtles, which were kept in corrals(Steward 1963).

Also, in sixteenth century Panama and Colombia, chronicles described salted and dried fish as exchange item between for example the Comogre and Pocorosa chiefdoms. In Cartagena, Padre Pedro Simon said that fish and cotton hammocks were trading objects in the interior for gold and other articles(Sauer 1966).
Facilities for storing fish vary tremendously today as in the past; fish can be stacked upon the ground, or piled upon drying racks and may also be packed in perishable materials such as palm leaves. However, remains of fish stored for future consumption are expected to show some common traits: they will occur in clumped distributions, include all skeletal elements excepting those removed during processing, and bear cut marks(Stewart 1989; Zohar 2001).
Unique archaeological evidence of probable fish preservation was found in Panama (figure 3). A series of superimposed layers of shell, burnt fish bones in low numbers, hearths, and numerous post holes within an ashy, eolian matrix, show that Cueva de los Vampiros was probably a fishing camp used for smoking and drying the fish, and may have been the supplier of such resources for other sites in Parita Bay(Cooke 1988; Pearson 2003).

Figure 3. Vampiros Cave: South Profile.
Contemporary people in the Neotropics prepare fish dishes in many ways, as did pre-Columbian people: boiling, roasting on an open fire (generally on fishing trips) roasting the meat buried in ashes or on a spit or fried at home (Steward 1963; Smith 1981).
However is difficult to discern a method of cooking fish, in archaeological sites. In North and East Africa for example, scientifics analyzed the bones, which show many patterns that may be interpreted as evidence of processing and preparing fish. The higher proportion of cranial versus vertebral ratios, according to the author(Stewart 1989), mean that some bodies of large fishes may have been removed. In other samples with lower cranial to vertebral ratios a different processing was inferred with stewing having less deleterious effects on vertebrae than roasting. In the samples, cut marks are minimal(Stewart 1989).
In addition, it is not possible determinate if the fish were roasted, stewed or eaten raw without contextual information as charcoal, fire-cracked rocks or pottery vessels.
The author observed an unusual processing technique(Stewart 1989), which involved removing the right bones (articulars) and leaving only left ones. This pattern is similar to butchering practices among Turkana and El Molo fishers in Africa today. They routinely remove left bones (opercula) to use them as scaling instruments which are considered better than obsidian blades and knives(Stewart 1989). Fish Consumption

Although indicative of environmental conditions aquatic and faunal remains may also be reveal different cultural preferences in the archaeological record. The ethnographic literature often reports that food avoidance is not strictly related to taste preferences, poisoning qualities, or abundance. Food preferences can be related to other subjective reasons such as physical appearance or taboos(Cooke 2001).
For example, Nigel Smith(1981) described the category "Remoso fish" for the Itacoatiara region as a food that can thicken the blood and exacerbate some health problem if eaten. They are generally avoided by anyone with a wound, or suffering from measles, tumours, or any skin rash, liver or venereal disease. Women who have recently given birth also do not eat this fish. Remoso fish are not particularly difficult to catch and are relatively abundant.
Amazonian tribes have a great variety of food taboos directed against the consumption of certain meats. Among the Camayura of the northern Mato Grosso, for example, women and their husbands should not eat scaleless fish when the woman is pregnant. Menstruating women from this group must not eat any fish. Tukano Indians, as another example; limit the consumption of fish by children as they grow up.
Archaeological evidence suggests that Sitio Sierra inhabitants, for example rejected the consumption of “ Chupapiedra” (Hypostomus panamensis) (Cooke 1994; Cooke 2001). Bones from the toxic Tetraodontidae (Puffer-fish), however, are common in many of the archaeological sites mentioned before and were presumably used as food(Cooke 1988; Cooke 1992).

4.2 Middle Range Theories
Little zooarchaeological research has focused specifically on butchering techniques or techniques to catch and preserve fish in the Tropics. In order to interpret the archaeological record, many scientists make analogies from several ethnohistoric studies addressing these issues. Alternatively, archaeologists conduct Middle range research with the aim of expanding our perceptions of the bone distribution and modification at sites, and to infer Pre-Columbian aquatic procurement strategies(Cooke 1994).

Empirical data collected to identify butchering methods used by modern fishermen from Parita Bay, Panama, show that they employ two methods to prepare fish before salting and drying them(Zohar 1997).
The authors observed the loss of branchial bones and damage on the neurocranium are related to the size of the fish. Also, they demonstrated the differential distribution of bones between processing and consuming sites.

The Itacoatiara region provides a similar example(Smith 1981). Fishermen usually return to land to prepare pirarucú. First, the fish is rolled on its stomach, and a line of scales is chipped off with a machete along its back. A row of scales is also removed in the same manner along the sides of the head behind the bony opercules, and then they cut them away . The skin then serves as a mat upon which the flesh is sliced.
The carcass is cut in two halves and the vertebral column, lungs and alimentary canal are discarded. The two halves are cut longitudinally so that they fold out. Finally, salt is rubbed into the pink, boneless flesh and the flanks are suspended from poles and left to dry in the sun. These types of studies are necessary to determine if archaeological remains are the product of discarding from meals, from inedible or economically unimportant fish, from parts removed during fish processing, or if they represent fish stored for future consumption.
Middle range research conducted by Cooke and Tapia(Cooke 1994; Cooke 1994), showed that stationary intertidal fish traps, made of stakes, netting and/or wire, which were used by artisan fishermen in Parita Bay (Panama), caught fish, turtles and crustaceans. Cooke compared the fish species trapped with this method and with the bones recovered from Pre-Columbian deposits. Consistent with this research, it is possible that pre-Columbian fishermen used these traps as land based method to capture fish. These fixed facilities produced greater yields of biomass per man-hour, depending on the trap placement and the water levels. A study among the Wanano Indians demonstrated that wing basket and platform traps produce a higher average yield than the other methods, in spite of the intensive labour and cooperation required for their construction(Chernela 1993).


The purpose here is not to discuss the role of aquatic resources in the subsistence. Rather I want to determine what zones were exploited, and what kind of fishing strategies were employed. These questions provided me with a general idea about aquatic resource exploitation in tropical environments as well as expectations about the things that I could look for in sites with aquatic remains. However, it is pertinent to mention that the quality of the data is not uniform; for example, the regional record for the archaeological sites in Parita Bay, Panama is clear and complete in comparison with that from the other sites.

However there are many discussions, is a fact that the aquatic habitats are extremely variable with interminable diversity in the relative productivity and accessibility. This mosaic of niches produce diverse human responses to aquatic environments that took place as Amerindians developed many fishing tools and subsistence strategies (Erlandson 2001).

Paleoenvironmental data show that changes during the Holocene influenced the exploitation of aquatic resources in the sites analyzed. The major displacement of aquatic environments and changes in the marine currents and temperature occurred over the past 7000 years. This partly explains which resources were used or ignored by the people, which technologies were developed and process and distributed resources and which resources were consumed. However, as many authors have noted, the paleoenvironmental data are not enough to elucidate the active and complex relationship between people and their environment (Archila 1993; Reitz 2001).

According to archaeological data, earlier populations exploited a heterogeneous range of niches and acquired aquatic resources by foraging, but their use was not limited to coastal sites. The pre-Columbian inhabitants who exploited the littoral, focused mainly on the lower and the upper estuaries. Occasionally, fishermen exploited offshore species in clear water. The people that used riverine resources caught them in shallow waters, or obtained marine fish through trade.
With exceptions in Peru, mangrove estuaries and coastal lagoon species dominate most sea faunal collections, and some fish of freshwater origin (Characins and Cichlids) dominate riverine collections. Also, rock substrates and deep clear water habitats were exploited, but not heavily. Many of the marine organisms are wide-ranging species, tolerant of a wide variety of water conditions, rather than those which clearly prefer warm–tropical waters(Cooke 1992).
In Peruvian sites, marine animals dominate faunal collections, with virtually no terrestrial vertebrates. These marine remains present temporal patterns that describe two subdivisions: previously abundant warm–tropical animals occur in lesser frequencies while warm–temperate animals augment. These differences probably reflect cultural responses to mid-Holocene environmental changes, when coastal waters ranging from southern Peru to Ecuador became cooler, which has been considerated as a factor for later cultural developments in this region(Reitz 2001; Reitz 2001).

Fishermen, who exploited estuarine as well as non-estuarine environments, remained relatively close to land, perhaps because in-shore and shallow riverine fish biomasses were sufficiently high to make long distance enterprise, unproductive.
People that exploit aquatic resources tend to have higher population densities, to be residentially more stable, to be collectors and to be possibly more socially and economically complex; however their mobility is defined in terms of the environment and its productivity and their technology, for example the use of land based traps and boats(Ames 2002).

The incidence and the type of the material used to elaborate fishing tools depends of the habitat that fish occupy in the littoral or river and their behaviour. The Middle research and ethnohistory demonstrated, in theory, the use of stationary traps proportionate almost all the species exploited by the Amerindians, perhaps also, is the reason that fishing artefacts as net sinkers or hooks were not found in most of the archaeological sites(Cooke 1988; Cooke 1994; Cooke 1994; Cooke 1998; Jiménez in press). A working hypothesis in the Handbook of South American Indians(Steward 1963) implies that nets with sinkers had a very restricted distribution in Pre-Columbian South America and are lacking in Northwest on Brazil, on expenses of the many trees branches that may be used to construct traps in the rivers would render net with sinkers useless. Furthermore, the improvement in fishing technology is related in some way to increasing human populations; in the area of study, there is evidence of more sophisticated net sinkers and composite fishhooks and shell hooks in later contexts(Cooke 1992; Masucci 1995; Marcus 1999; Wilson 1999; Mayo Torné 2003; Stahl 2003).

Faunal analysis could be used to determinate additional fishing methods in the Tropics, for example the use of piscicides, with the support of the paleobotanical data. Small fish bones found in certain contexts in Salango and ethnographic data, suggest that the inhabitants could capture fish in intertidal pools using Jacquinia, a Neotropical plant that is distributed from covering Mexico to Peru and Brazil. In South America, this plant is common in dry coastal forest. Similar to the use of Amazonian ichthyotoxic plants (essentially Papilionaceae of the Lonchocarpus and Tephrosia genera and Sapindaceae of the Serjania genus) to catch fish, Ecuadorian researchers speculate that pre-Columbian people used this toxic plant to capture small fish(Béarez 1998).

The ethnographic data showed that fishing is a well-organized activity. The techniques are designed to exploit a particular habitat, exact specie at specific time (day/night) and season (windy or calm) and in accordance with the water level.
Also the ethnographic information showed that fishing is a seasonal activity.
It is important to mention that such seasonality has already been explored in archaeological studies relating to the behaviour of the species. For example, some fish taxa use aquatic environments differentially as juveniles and adults, others move seasonally, daily, at night or opportunistically for reproduction or alimentation. Consequently, this variation has affected early procurement methods of fishing(Cooke 1992; Cooke 1994).

Another point to discuss is the use of fishing facilities and the access to productive sites. In early exploitation of aquatic resources, there would have been some social control and this could have been the onset of the development of delimited territories(Lieber 1994).
The Wanano data showed that only the highest-ranking members have access to the most productive fishing techniques (land traps) and the most desirable fishing places. Fishing is also highly organized in the tribes of Upper Xingu. Each tribe possesses the privilege of fishing in well-delimited stretches of the rivers and owns fish dams and weirs(Chernela 1993).In the case of sambaquis in Brazil, archaeologists affirm that the dependence upon the sea and lagunar resources might have led these societies to a higher degree of territorial circumscription(De Blasis 1998; De Blasis 1999).

On the other hand, the Middle range theories are tools to explore how humans may have processed fish and explain how they may have captured them in tropical environments. There is a modest amount of information in zooarchaeological reports about the relative presence of anatomical parts (cranial and post-cranial elements) and the presence of cut marks on the fish bones, and we do not have archaeological evidence of how people conserved these resources in tropical environments(Cooke 1988; Cooke 1994; Cooke 1994). This Middle range theories are a source of guidelines for future research proposals concerning the exploitation of aquatic resources(Zohar 2001).


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wonderful essay! long ... but well written and well researched!
it's long but fantastic
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I didn't check all your essay, but I'm managing now in a archaeological survey program in the coastal Ecuador. I've seen your short list of site with malacological or faunal rests and two importants are missind: Lopez Viejo (Currie,1997) and Los Frailes (Mester, I don't remember exactly the year)
I will read your work better other time but it seems interesting
I am very interested in your paper, in which journal will it be published?

best regards,

i have to say you have got fantastics skills. also that the begining was a little no no you known but over all it was good you just need to work on the way you start you essay it was too long just give the basic fact sthen you can go to details.
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