The 1976 Excavations at Taima-Taima

Close to 150 m2 had already been excavated between 1962 and 1975. In 1976 another 160 m2 were added, for a total of 310 m2. The 1976 excavation started on an area that already exposed the upper stratum and the remains of a Glyptodon carapace dating to the late Pleistocene layer. The stratigraphy, although complex, can be grouped into four units , as follows:


Excavation block area of Taima-taima in 1976

Stratigraphy of Taima-taima
At the bottom dark gray convoluted sand/clay (Unit I). The inverted carapace of a Glyptodon is visible in the pedestal (red arrow) and sits on the Unit I/II uncomformity. Unit III (black soil) is barely visible just below the yellow/brown strata. The brown-yellow top strata belongs to Unit IV.

Unit I: Resting on the basal 'cobblestone' pavement of Miocene rocks is a fine convoluted dark grey sand deposit, containing considerable sorted clay in some convolutions. The dark grey coloration denotes a reducing (oxygen-starved) environment caused by persistent waterlogged conditions, which also made excavation laborious and difficult.

Detail of the excavation around an inverted Glyptodon carapace at taima-taima.



The 'El Negro Leoncio'
Cuxent's trusted aide-de-camp exposing
a bone in te lower Unit I stratum.

It is in this stratigraphic context (resting on the stone pavement) that the remains of dismembered and butchered Haplomastodon and Stegomastdon were found in association with various lithic tools of expediency as well as few fragment of El Jobo type of projectile point. Of the few projectile fragments discovered of the various campaigns, one was found on the side of an Haplomastodon tibia while another was found (in 1976) in the pelvic cavity.



The mandibula of an Haplomastodon
(juvenile) from Taim-taima

Most of the identified tools were informal and expedient, meaning that standarization of form into a 'type' was secondary to use/function. These include hafted implements with horizontal handle, hand-held implements with straight or reduced butts, hafted hand-axes, anvils, edge-trimmed scrapers and utilized flakes. Some of the mastodon long bones showed evidence of use-wear cut marks, and one femur was likely used as an anvil. The majority of the informal lithic tools were made from locally abundant fossiliferous sandstone, but a few were of locally exotic jasper (red chert) flakes and all of the projectile point fragments were made of fine-grained quartztic sandstone. The latter is the preferred material for the El Jobo tradition/industry, and abundantly available throughout Falcón (see Alexander and Oliver 2003). In addition to the mastondons, other taxa represented in the middle layers of Unit I are Equus, Pararctotherium, Glossotherium, Glyptodon, and possibly cf. Sclerocalyptinae (?), and cf. Felidae (?).

Unit II: This unit is a light brown to yellowish-red sand that lies uncomformably over Unit I. It incorporated many scattered and fragmented animal bones most of which were displaced by surface erosion of Unit I. This sandy layer was deposited slowly, perhaps in a shallow pond. The inverted carapace and pelvis of a Glyptodon were the only articulated bones found, albeit there were no clear signs of human intervention. Immediately above the light brown/yellowish-red sand there is laminated fine white sand infused with yellow natro-jarosite. Despite color differences, these are part of the same unit of deposition. The taxa represented in the I/II stratigraphic uncomformity (i.e., lowest part of Unit II) include Equus, cf. Hippidion, Macrauchenia, Glyptodon, cf. Mylodontidae (?), cf. Artidactila (?), cf. Scelrocalyptinae (?) and cf. Geochelone (?).

Units III-IV : For most of the 1976 excavation block area, Units III-IV had been mechanically removed as overburden. Both are Holocene units of deposition. From the remaining standing profiles (and pre-1976 excavation data), Unit III shows as a discrete black clay sedimentary unit rich in plant and organic remains (peat-like). Overlying the black organic clay is another erosional unconformity over which lies Unit IV, a thick yellowish brown colluvium consistent of clay and in some areas mixed with brown sand.


The Chronology at Taima-taima

A series of 18 consistent radiocarbon dates support the chronology at Taima-taima. Three additional dates were rejected as inconsistent and/or insufficiently reliable for a variety of reasons. The list of dates taken from Bryan (in Ochsenius 1979: 54-56) are provided below in Table 1.

Radiocarbon dates in stratigraphic & chronological Order
Stratigraphic
Context
Material
Dated
Sample
No.
Consistent
Dates
Inconsistent
Dates
Unit III
Black
organic
clay
organic
matter
content
from
'soil'
IVIC-657
9650 ± 80
IVIC-658
9660 ± 110
IVIC-665
9680 ± 110
IVIC-666
10,030 ± 90
IVIC-659
10,140 ± 90
IVIC-667
10,290 ± 90

Stratigraphic
Context
Material
Dated
Sample
No.
Consistent
Dates
Inconsistent
Dates
Unit I
Convoluted
grey
sand
organic
carbon
content
from
'soil'
IVIC-655
11,860 ± 130
IVIC-627
12,580 ± 150
IVIC-661
12,620 ± 120
IVIC-660
12,660 ± 120
IVIC-664
12,730 ± 120
IVIC-669
12,770 ± 120
bone
SI-3316
12,980 ± 085
organic
carbon
IVIC-670
12,990 ± 260
wood
(twigs)
BIRM-802
13,000 ± 200
organic
carbon
IVIC-191-1
13,010 ± 280
organic
carbon
content
from
'soil'
IVIC-663
13,130 ± 130
IVIC-671
13,180 ± 130
IVIC-662
13,390 ± 130
IVIC-668
13,390 ± 130
bone
IVIC-247
13,880 ± 120
organic
carbon
IVIC-672
14,010 ± 140
wood
(twigs)
UCLA-2133
14,200 ± 300
Cobble
pavement
two
assays
from
same
bone
IVIC-191-2
14,440 ± 435
IVIC-191-B
7590 ± 100

Table 1
Taken from Alan Bryan & Ruth Gruhn ( in Ochsenius, editor, 1979: Table2). All dates are in radiocarbon years before present (uncalibrated). 'Present' is by convention set at AD 1955 .

A suite of six charcoal dates from the stratigraphic Unit III (black organic soil) ranged from 10,290 B.P. to 9650 B.P. (all dates uncalibrated). The older 10,000 B.P. dates were from the bottom of this stratum, while the 9,800-9,600 B.P. dates are from the upper levels, suggesting that this marked the transition into the early Holocene. As this stratigraphic uncomformity 'sealed' Units I/II, it can be reasonably argued that the archaeological contexts in Unit I and the animal remains in Unit I/II must be earlier. Likewise, the brown clayey colluvium is entirely within the Holocene.

All but three dates associated with the archaeological context in Unit I (Table 1) produced a consistent maximum range between 13,390 and 12,580 B.P., with an outlying (but still consistent) date of 11,860 B.P. In general, these dates frame the human activities at some time between 13,500 and 12,500 B.P. This range places Taima-taima within a comparable time range as the exceedingly well documented upper component (or MV-II) of Monte Verde site.

Certainly it cannot be argued that such events could possibly be any later than 10,500 B.P. that marks the end of the erosional uncomformity represented by the accumulation of sediments of stratigraphic Unit III. But it could be argued that the archaeological contexts found on the cobblestone could be older than the estimated maximum date range of 13,000-13,500 B.P. As the butchering over the pavement is unlikely to be the accumulation (a palimpsest) of about two millennia of human activities, but more likely fewer discrete butchering/killings taking place over a much shorter time span, the actual date range marking such event(s) at Taima-taima remains open to discussion. As Dillehay (2000: 131) noted, re-dating the bones laying over the cobble pavement with the Accelerator Mass Spectrometry (AMS) technique would help reduce the temporal spread. As it stands, it is safe to suggest that human activities at Taima-taima most probably occurred at some point in time bracketed within the 13,500 and 12,000 B.P. range.



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