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How the rise of archery changed life in the Americas

A new study led by an anthropologist from the University of California, Davis, is shedding light on the origins of archery in the Americas and its societal impact. 

The research challenges previous notions by suggesting that archery technology in the Andes emerged around 5,000 years ago, rather than the previously believed 3,000 years ago.

This finding was based on the analysis of 1,179 projectile points from the Lake Titicaca Basin in the Andes mountains.

Expansion of exchange networks

“This is among the first instances in which Andean archaeologists have investigated social complexity through the quantitative analysis of stone tools,” said corresponding author Luis Flores-Blanco, a doctoral student in Anthropology at UC Davis. 

The study indicates that the adoption of bow-and-arrow technology coincided with the expansion of exchange networks and the increasing tendency of people to live in villages.

Increasing social complexity

Traditionally, researchers have focused on monumental architecture and ceramics to investigate increasing social complexity in the region.

However, this study shifts the focus to projectile points, which are typically associated with foraging communities.

The research team examined over a thousand projectile points spanning 10,000 years. They all originated from the Lake Titicaca Basin.

Flores-Blanco highlighted the basin’s historical significance, noting its elevation of 12,500 feet and its role in the domestication of plants like the potato.

The region was also a significant territory for the Tiwanaku civilization and the Inca Empire.

New insights on archery in the Americas 

The team’s analysis involved measuring the length, width, thickness, and weight of each projectile, noting that older points were larger.

A noticeable decrease in size occurred around 5,000 years ago during the Terminal Archaic period, suggesting a shift from spear-throwing to bow-and-arrow technology.

Additionally, the researchers compared their archery data with American archaeological information regarding settlement sizes, raw material availability, and cranial trauma data from the region.

They observed that during the Terminal Archaic period, settlement sizes increased, but the number of settlement sites decreased. Interestingly, despite access to unique materials, there was a lack of evidence of social violence.

Study implications 

According to Flores-Blanco, the introduction of bow-and-arrow technology could have played a role in maintaining social norms crucial to the development of new social institutions like obsidian exchange hubs and the expansion of village residences.

This research not only offers new insights into the technological advancements of ancient Andean civilizations but also suggests a deeper, more nuanced understanding of how these societies evolved and interacted.

The research is published in the journal Quaternary International.


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