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Phase 2: Theme A - Demographic processes and cultural change: Project A008
Early population history of the Americas.


James Steele (AHRC CECD, Institute of Archaeology, University College London)

PROJECT FUNDING: Cards Against Humanity
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The cultural evolution of earliest biface technologies in the Americas has been a focus of evolutionary archaeology(1,2), and genetic variability in contemporary Amerindian populations has also been extensively studied in the attempt to reconstruct early population history(3). However, the two have not yet been integrated in a model of demographic history which predicts its effects on the evolution of diversity in each system. We shall conclude an experimental study of 14C determinations from previously-excavated material, to increase the accuracy and precision of dates for early human population expansion into the Americas. We shall compile a geo-referenced database of early dates for human occupation in South America, using existing and our own additional measurements, and we shall use this database to constrain simulation models of population expansion. Output will be used to predict spatial and temporal trends in cultural diversity in Palaeoindian populations.

(1) O’Brien, M.J. et al. (2001) Cladistics is useful for reconstructing archaeological phylogenies: Palaeoindian points from the southeastern US. J. Archaeol. Sci. 28: 1115–1136.
(2) Morrow, J. & Morrow, T. (1999) Geographic variation in fluted projectile points: A hemispheric perspective. American Antiquity 64: 215–231.
(3) Hey, J. (2005) On the number of New World founders: a population genetic portrait of the peopling of the Americas. PLoS Biol. 3(6): e193

The Brazilian section of the database was substantially revised and augmented by Lucas Bueno during his visit to the CECD in spring 2010. A book chapter summarising some of the archaeological issues was written by Lucas Bueno with contributions by J. Steele(1). Plans were also made for an electronic symposium at the SAA 2011 in Sacramento, California, with invited contributions from experts on the radiocarbon records of early human activity in individual countries in Central and South America, co-organized by Bueno, Steele, and Luciano Prates and Gustavo Politis from Argentina (both former CECD visitors). This symposium proposal has now been submitted. A submission is in prep. for a special issue of a journal containing these papers, and the updated data tables from the database itself. Steele's earlier work with Politis was the subject of a feature (2) in the most recent issue of 'Mammoth Trumpet' (the magazine of the Center for the Study of the First Americans), and Steele has been invited to give two talks at that Center (based at Texas A&M University) immediately after the 2011 SAA meeting.

Funding support for the SAA symposium forms part of the justification for the intended request for a six-month extension to the CECD grant.


(1) Lucas Bueno, Paulo DeBlasis, James Steele (sumitted) The Central Brazilian Plateau in the late Pleistocene/early Holocene: occupying the South American continental interior. For J.L. Lanata (ed) Hunter-Gatherer Archaeology in South America.

(2) K. Hill (2010) Paleo South America: Long Time No See. Mammoth Trumpet 25[4]

G. Politis and J. Steele (in press).
Cronologia de Arroyo Seco 2. In: Politis G, Gutierrez MA & Scabuzzo C (eds) (ed\s) Estado actual de las Investigaciones en el sitio 2 de Arroyo Seco (región pampeana, Argentina). Serie Monográfica INCUAPA 5. Olavarría, Argentina.
Lucas Bueno, Gustavo Politis, Luciano Prates and James Steele (eds) (forthcoming 2012).
Special issue on "A Late Pleistocene/early Holocene archaeological C14 database for Central and South America: palaeoenvironmental contexts and demographic interpretations". Quaternary International.
J. Steele (2010).
Commentary on V.T. Holliday and D.J. Meltzer, "The 12.9ka ET Impact Hypothesis and North American Paleoindians". Current Anthropology. Vol 51:594-596.
Steele, J (2010).
Radiocarbon dates as data: quantitative strategies for estimating colonization front speeds and event densities. J. Archaeological Science. Vol 37:2017-2030.
J. Steele and G. Politis (2009).
AMS 14C dating of early human occupation of southern South America . Journal of Archaeological Science. Vol 36:419-429 .