Monte Verde Archaeological Site

Date of Submission: 23/02/2004
Criteria: (iii)(iv)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
National Monuments Council Av. Vicuña Mackenna n°84, Providencia Santiago - Chile
Coordinates: 41°30'17" S- 73°12'16" W 41°30'11" S- 73°12'12" W 41°30'08" S- 73°12'21" W 41°30'13" S- 73°12'25" W
Ref.: 1873

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The Monte Verde archaeological site locates in the region of the sub-Antarctic and evergreen softwood forest, in the low mountains of the South of Chile. There, the site shows the existence of a group of people that lived there throughout the beaches and banks of sand and gravel of a small stream about 14.800 years ago according to the calibrated dates of carbon 14. After the occupation of this site, a turf coating formed by a swamp covered the entire site and allowed the conservation of this impression of the human past. The archaeological works of the Austral University of Chile achieved the discovery of these rests of housing, wood devices, vegetal food rests, such as wild potatoes, and animal bones among which there are rests of 5 or 6 mastodons, as carrion or hunting food, showing an early human fitness to "Valdiviano" type humid temperate forest. Among the lithic tools recovered, we can mention round rocks of the size of an egg, some of which could be useful as stones of sling, and bolas. Likewise, a spike- shape extended cylindrical stone that could have been used for drilling. Other findings were odd stone devices with sheet shapes, including a nucleus and a chopper and the rests of 2 long lanceolate tip projectiles, similar to those known as El Jobo projectile tips found in the early scopes of Venezuela. In wood devices a lance tip shape, digging sticks, three handles with scrapers mounted thereon and three mortars rustically worked are included. Timber was used in the construction of two different types of structures found in two different areas of the site. To form the base of rectangular housing, small trunks or woods and thick planks rudely cut were arranged on the floor. Through the use of stakes they were set in their place. Near this, vertical stems were introduced in each meter of the land to build the housing structure. In some fallen woods animal fur traces were found suggesting us that the leather was conforming housing walls. Measures ranged from 3 to 4,5 metres per side. Inside the big tent, the 12 excavated rooms were joined on their sides and arranged in 2 parallel rows or lines. Tools, plant rests and superficial or slightly deep wells covered with clay used as bonfires (fires) as they still kept evidences of fire rests, were recovered inside the housing. Apparently, the kitchen was a communal activity and took place around two big fires. Separated from the rest of the housing and isolated, there was a very different type of structure located to the west end of the site. This structure had a U-shape with compacted sand or gravel founding or base. Timber pieces or fragments in vertical position were present every half meter throughout both arms of the structure and were useful as wood housing to fasten the leather coating or cover. A small platform protruded on the rear part of the structure turning the U-shape of the precinct in one that resembles a Y aspect. The platform is approximately 3 metres width by 4 meters long. The open front of the structure faced a small clearance or cleared and clean zone containing small bonfires covered with clay. In this area rests of animal furs, canes and burnt seeds as well as various species of medicinal plants also burnt were recovered, even rests of chewed sheets. In the surroundings of the structure and the yard there was a fire concentration, timber piles, tools, medicinal plants and bones, including most of the mastodon rests found in the site. It is obvious, that this structure of open front was the focus or centre for the special activities that included the process of hunting, or a ritual celebration, the preparation of medicinal herbs and maybe, the practice of the Shamanic cure. This structure locates at the beginning of a long architecture tradition with special purpose aimed at special social (or communitarian or corporate) activities and from which we know very little. In sum, the current visibility of the site is given by the architecture characterised by the presence of a timber foundation network defining the external and internal division architectonic base of the tent, including in situ wedges and stakes, and ropes and rush knots supporting it. The second architectonic evidence corresponds to the U-shape structure foundation - formed by hardened gravel and sand where timber planks supporting the roof were fixed - with East West direction and with the door to the east. The people of Monte Verde chased or hunted mastodons. They also hunted Camelidae and other minor animals. The collection of plants was equally or more important that hunting. In addition to wild potatoes, botanical rests include edible seeds, fruits, nuts, berries, mushrooms, algae, vegetables, tubercles and rhizomes. The flora was collected in the surroundings of marshes, forests and in the Pacific shore allowing a diet enriched with iodine and salt. With the exploitation of disperse ecological zones with a different growth regime, the inhabitants of Monte Verde obtained edible plants during all the months of the year enabling the occupation of the site during all seasons. This evidence of permanent residence is contrary to the common vision of migrating collector hunters.