The El Gigante Rock Shelter, Honduras


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Publication Date

November 2007


The site of El Gigante, La Paz, Honduras is unique in Central America for its very well preserved organic remains and lengthy archaeological sequence. Preliminary analyses of the ceramics, lithics, botanical and faunal material are presented in a cultural sequence beginning at 9,480 B.C. The botanical remains recovered from the site are inventoried and several species are subjected to preliminary morphometric analyses in order to characterize the assemblage, and assess changes in plant phenotypes through time. The operation of "directional" (artificial) selection is evident at the site for several species, including avocado (Persea americana), squash (Cucurbita sp., cf. C. pepo), and bottle gourd (Lagenaria siceraria). While varieties of squashes may have been cultivated in the Archaic, clearly domesticated maize and beans appear to have been introduced in the Formative. However, stratigraphic disconformities in the period of c. 5,000 – 2,000 B.C., may bias this conclusion. From early in the sequence, botanical diversity is high, despite changing subsistence specialization and generalization evident in other artifact assemblages. Many undomesticated species are utilized prehistorically and are not lost from the diet despite the intensification of field-based food production of domesticated species. An emphasis is placed on suites of plants, both wild and domesticated, annual and perennial, whose use is integrated through time El Gigante. Together these subsistence systems afforded flexible, energetically efficient and risk minimizing choices to prehistoric foragers. Low level food production is evident as early as the Archaic period. Tree crops were one focus of subsistence practices. The augmentation and management of perennials is inferred from their consistency and prominence in the archaeological record. However, there is also evidence for the use of annual grasses during this time. The data invites further investigation into the landscape level paleoecological past around El Gigante.


Paleoindian, Macrobotanical, Archaic, Subsistence, Rock Shelter




Pennsylvania State University