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Anthropological Papers of the University of Arizona No. 76

Paper No. 76
Los Primeros Mexicanos, Late Pleistocene and Early Holocene People of Sonora

Author: Guadalupe Sánchez
Publisher: Anthropological Papers of the University of Arizona 76, 2016, $19.95
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Photo below: Cover of Anthropological Paper of the University of Arizona 76

Abstract: Mexico is a significant region for understanding the colonization of the continent because it is shaped like a funnel. When the first Americans moved inland from Beringia to South America, they crossed what is now the border between the United States and Mexico, a territory that it is more than 1,600 km long. These people then walked south to the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, a narrow strip of land 160 km wide between the Pacific Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean.

The archaeological record of the first people of Mexico is scarce, and the previously published information is confusing and unsystematic. During the last decade, however, investigations of Paleoindian sites have increased exponentially, even though only a handful of Mexican researchers focus their investigations on Pleistocene sites. Systematic investigations of Paleoindian sites in the state of Sonora, in particular, have increased enormously what is known about the Pleistocene landscape and the first people who inhabited this region.

This book reviews what is currently known about the Pleistocene archaeology of Mexico, with an emphasis on Sonora. It describes the landscape, paleoenvironment, and physiographic provinces of Sonora, and provides a regional cultural history. Data from 12 Paleoindian sites in that state are analyzed, including the Clovis lithic industry at the site of El Bajío. The patterns of land use, subsistence strategies, organization of labor, and chronology of the Clovis period are defined.

Archaeological data from Sonora support the “staging-area” model of Clovis land use. Extensive Clovis campsites, hunting areas, stone procurement areas, and the availability of wild resources indicate that people repeatedly used the region. The Clovis points found in Sonora were made using local materials of varied quality including chert, quartzite, quartz crystal, rhyolite, obsidian, and basalt. Knowing where to find the best local sources of stone for  tool making indicates that Clovis people had a detailed knowledge of their environment. From this, it is inferred that Clovis groups stayed at sites for long periods of times, or that they visited the same sites recurrently as a part of a long-term strategy of land use. The homogeneity of Clovis points, the sharing of artifacts between groups, and the sharing of raw materials suggest that Clovis groups maintained strong ties with extended populations at a regional level. The essential resources found in this region made it an attractive place for pioneering human groups.

Clovis economic strategies were organized to exploit a large and pristine environment that contained a variety of animals and plants. Radiocarbon dates from Fin del Mundo indicate Clovis people were hunting gomphotheres and other game animals at 11,550 B.P. (13,390 cal B.P.) (Sánchez and others 2014). The gomphotheres found at Fin del Mundo are significant because this is the only place they have been found in association with humans in North America.

The rich Paleoindian archaeological record of Clovis in Sonora promises to yield significant new information as archaeologists continue to work in the region. This information will be important in understanding how Paleoindian people used different environments to support themselves as they spread through North and South America.

Guadalupe Sánchez is a graduate of the School of Anthropology (Ph.D. Arizona, 2010).

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