Subsistence Economy of El Paraíso, an Early Peruvian Site

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Science  18 Jan 1991:
Vol. 251, Issue 4991, pp. 277-283
DOI: 10.1126/science.251.4991.277


Studies of food remains from the Preceramic monumental site of E1 Paraíso, Peru (1800 to 1500 B.C.), have shed new light on a debate regarding the relative importance of seafood versus terrestrial resources and the role of cultigens in subsistence economies during the early development of Peruvian civilization. Fish was the primary animal food at the site whereas plant foods consisted of a mixture of cultivated resources (squashes, beans, peppers, and jicama) with an additional reliance on fruits (guava, lucuma, and pacae). Wild plants, especially the roots of sedges and cat-tail, also may have accounted for a substantial part of the diet. Cotton was a chief crop, used in making fishing tackle and the textiles that served as clothing and items of high value and status. As an example of the beginnings of civilization, El Paraíso is a case in which impressive architecture was built on a relatively simple subsistence economy and energy was expended in the production of resources useful in local and regional exchange systems.

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