Emergence of social complexity among coastal hunter-gatherers in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile
Pablo A. Marquet, Calogero M. Santoro, Claudio Latorre, Vivien G. Standen, Sebastián R. Abades, Marcelo M. Rivadeneira, Bernardo Arriaza, and Michael E. Hochberg
PNAS September 11, 2012 vol. 109 no. 37 14754-14760
The emergence of complex cultural practices in simple hunter-gatherer groups poses interesting questions on what drives social complexity and what causes the emergence and disappearance of cultural innovations. Here we analyze the conditions that underlie the emergence of artificial mummification in the Chinchorro culture in the coastal Atacama Desert in northern Chile and southern Peru. We provide empirical and theoretical evidence that artificial mummification appeared during a period of increased coastal freshwater availability and marine productivity, which caused an increase in human population size and accelerated the emergence of cultural innovations, as predicted by recent models of cultural and technological evolution. Under a scenario of increasing population size and extreme aridity (with little or no decomposition of corpses) a simple demographic model shows that dead individuals may have become a significant part of the landscape, creating the conditions for the manipulation of the dead that led to the emergence of complex mortuary practices.