The El Gigante Rockshelter: Preliminary Observations on an Early to Late Holocene Occupation in Southern Honduras

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Latin American Antiquity


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The cave of El Gigante in the highlands of Honduras was occupied as early as 10,000 years BCE and gives previously unknown information about the prehistory of Honduras. Dry weather conditions result in excellent preservation of this residential area. The excavations documented a clear sequence of eight well-defined cultural strata containing homes, as well as dense deposits of lithic, and microbotanical and faunal remains. Based on conventional radiocarbon and AMS dating methods, three distinct cultural horizons were identified. The oldest occupation is from the Hope phase, which represents Early Archaic occupation that extends between 10,040–9100 a.P. The second is the Marcala phase which corresponds to the Middle Archaic period, between 7350–6050 BC. The third and most recent occupation in these caves is in the Estanzuela phase, between 3900–1500 a.P. The Giant was used as a residence during the two periods of the Archaic. Several long projectile tips were recovered at stratigraphic levels clearly identified as paleoindian. Examination of the faunal data shows that, while the bones of large mammals decrease, those of smaller mammals and those of non-mammalian animals increase. A large amount of corn (Zea sp.) is present at the site during the Estanzuela period. The variety of food materials found between the transition suggests the long-term maintenance of a dietary breadth in the context of a flexible and mixed economy. El Gigante is a site that reveals key information regarding the initial colonization of Central America and the incorporation of domesticated species within a foraging base that accompanies the transition to agriculture.

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