Implications of Taima-taima and the Peopling of Northern South America

The handful of El Jobo projectile points found at Taima-Taima, albeit rare at this site, are found in high frequency in several archaeologically 'rich' areas in western Venezuela. These include various sites in the Peninsula of Paraguaná and particularly along the Pedregal River, where these occur on the surfaces of ancient fluvial terraces (Alexander and Oliver 2003).

An El Jobo projectile point rests next to the tibia of an Haplomastodon at Taima-taima.
The date of this photo is uncertain, but was from an excavation campaign prior to the 1976 excavation season.

El Jobo type projectile points
El Jobo type projectile points from the Pedregal Valley; a complete specimen is shown on the far left. Specimens such as these were found at Taima-taima. Material: fine-grained quartiztic sandstone.

In these areas, a fuller range of formal (as well as informal/expedient) tools, including the ubiquitous El Jobo points (named after an affluent of the Pedregal River), suggest a wide range of activities. According to Cruxent, most of the lithic tool types in the Pedregal Valley were designed to work with wood, or materials of similar hardness.

An awl-like hand-held implement
for puncturing/perforating,
from the Pedregal Valley

Common types include: the awl-like or perforating tool with a backed handle that bears the use/wear patterns typical of puncturing by twisting the wrist left-right in half rotation; the elongated unifacially flaked plano-convex scraping/gouging tool; long and wide blades of 'Las Lagunas' type; and the bifacially flaked hand-axe used for heavy chopping or crushing.

A unifacial, plano-convex scraper,
from the Pedregal valley

Long and wide blades 'Las Lagunas' type

bifacially flaked hand-axe used for
heavy chopping or crushing

Stemmed projectile points (designated as Las Casitas type) are thought to be a later, addition and subsequent replacement (probably in the early Holocene) of the El Jobo projectile type. Tanged or stemmed projectile points are also found in a wider geographic distribution throughout South America after circa 11,000-10,000 B.P.

A Las Casitas type, straight-stemmed
triangular projectile point.

Most interestingly, Clovis-like projectile points, with and without fluting (021 jpg) and all made from chert, have been found in western Venezuela in 1980-81 by Miklos Szabadics, an amateur/collector, at El Cayude site in the Peninsula of Paraguaná.

Clovis-like projectile points
Clovis-like projectile points with fluting channels, from El Cayude, Paraguaná.

A range of chert implements
including Clovisoid points, from El Cayude, Paraguaná.

But El Cayude, with two loci of surface concentrations exposed by laminar erosion, is the only site to have yielded Clovisoid points. In addition, two small fish-tail projectile points, a projectile type with many variants that is also of wide distribution in South America. The chert fish tail point is also from El Cayude, but the quartzitic sandstone fish tail is from an undetermined locality along the Pedregal Valley.

Fish-tail projectile points
The specimen on the left (chert material) is probably from El Cayude. The specimen on the right is unprovenienced, and is made from quartzitic sandstone.

A limiting factor is that all of these artefacts from Pedregal and Paraguaná come from surface finds, thus making it speculative to propose temporal sequences. The consensus is that El Jobo is the earliest (13,000 B.P.) while Clovis-like projectile may date after 11,000 B.P. as would the fish-tail points and stemmed triangular points. Of these, it is the latter that persisted well into the Holocene.

When looking at the distribution of the bi-pointed El Jobo projectile points other lithic tools pertaining to this complex, the most striking pattern is that it is restricted to north-western Venezuela; specifically to the coastal Dabajuro platform facing the Gulf of Venezuela, the peninsula of Paraguaná, and the high mountains and interior valleys of Falcón and Lara states. This distribution tentatively suggests that, from perhaps 13,000 B.P. on the El Jobo hunter-gatherers remained and developed within a circumscribed territory and maintained a distinctive Joboid lithic tool tradition. The El Jobo spear-points, which were socketed into the spear, rather than hafted, as Taima-taima showed, were used for hunting large mammals. From a continental perspective, their circumscribed distribution would suggest that El Jobo groups were not moving to hunt beyond this home range in northern-northwestern Venezuela. This is in stark contrast to the wide geographical distribution of the fish-tail points (which date as early as 11,000 B.P. in Patagonia), precisely the type that is rare in western Venezuela and only found in Paraguaná. This circumscription is as well unlike the wide distribution of Clovisoid points throughout the Great Plains and Southeastern United States, which suggests an extensive, wide interaction network and probably high mobility.

In conclusion, Taima-taima provided substantial evidence for an early presence of hunter-gatherers in northern South America, evincing a tool technology and typology for hunting and butchering mastodon that is unrelated to and earlier than that found in North American Clovis period sites. The tools associated with the kill site consisted of implements used for spearing, pounding, and cutting meat. Most of these tools were informal; that is, minimally altered or modified by use. A few, like the El Jobo points and edge-trimmed scrapers followed a standardized form that can be easily recognized in many other localities of Falcón and western Venezuela. It would be an error, however, to think that Taima-taima is representative of highly mobile, on-the-march, and specialized big game hunters. Instead, the pattern of food procurement of the hunter-gatherers that produced the wide array of tools archaeologists designated as the Joboid tradition would appear to be more territorially circumscribed in terms of mobility as well as in terms of interaction networks (social, economic, etc.).

The wider range of Joboid artefact types also suggests a more diverse range of activities (such as woodworking) and not just hunting and butchering. The distinctive El Jobo projectile point, has no homologue anywhere in the New World, which would indicate that this was a local development, if not invention. (Indeed, as Dillehay has noted, the only possible analogue to El Jobo projectile are the few (and rare) specimens recovered from Monte Verde in Chile.) Thus, it is likely that once in this region of western Venezuela, the Joboid population, so to speak, stayed put and developed in relative independence from other contemporary populations in nearby Panamá, Colombia and eastern Venezuela.

It is too speculative to assess the historical relationship, if any, of El Jobo hunter-gatherers with those groups who produced the Clovisoid and fish tail points restricted to Paraguaná. But it is certain that these surface finds are highly significant. These may well be later intruders into a region dominated by Joboid descendants of the Taima-taima hunters and who were 'marginalized' or restricted to the Peninsula of Paraguaná. El Cayude remains a virgin site awaiting archaeologists to research in depth. Most importantly, it is a site that appears to have some degree of stratification, which would make it ideally suited for tighter chrono-stratigraphic controls and for defining activity features. To date, and unlike Taima-taima, El Cayude has not yielded a single animal bone of late Pleistocene age. Nor is there anywhere in Venezuela a single human fossil bone earlier than the 6,000 B.P. skeleton found around Lake Valencia.

Final Remarks

Cruxent never lost hope to find an El Jobo or Taima-taima 'Man'. After 1976, Cruxent devoted his efforts to other archaeological and museum projects. But these projects also included joining Alexander and Oliver (2003) in the Pedregal Valley study in 1984-85, funded by National Geographic Society (0024 jpg). In 1978, after Claudio Ochsenius departure from Coro, he hired Jean Bocquetin-Villanueva (a disciple of the famous French palaeontologist, Prof. Hofsteter) to continue research in the Falcón region and to mend, for formal taxonomic and taphonomic analyses, the many fossil bones from the Muaco/Taima-taima area. Cruxent as well initiated the surveys in Paraguaná that led to the discovery of some important late Pleistocene-early Holocene sites in Paraguaná. By 1988 into perhaps 1991, Cruxent, reopened a new excavation area at Taima-taima (024 jpg), working on and off, as he was also engaged in excavating with Kathleen Deagan the site of La Isabela in the Dominican Dominican Republic, the first European colonial settlement built in the New World on Christopher Columbus' order. The newer excavations in Taima-taima were taken only down to the Unit I/II interface (as seen in 024 jpg). Unfortunately, Cruxent's health gradually deteriorated as a result of dementia praecox. He passed away early in February 2005 at the age of 95. He was, indeed, a towering figure in Latin American archaeology whose insightful and precocious vision of the First South Americans should never be forgotten.

Where are the Materials Now?

Most of the Taima-taima artefacts and the bones recovered through the many campaigns since 1961, including the latest one, are currently kept at the Casa del Balcón de Los Arcaya, in the Museo de Cerámica Falconiana, of the Universidad Nacional Francisco de Miranda (UNEFM) in Coro, Falcón State. Felipe Torrealba, a conservator, in 1998 was still working on the restoration and curation of the Muaco and Taima-taima megafuana. These specimens anxiously await interested archaeologists and palaeontologists to reveal further information. The materials from the Pedregal Valley collected between 1957 and 1976, on the other hand, are largely stored at the Instituto Venezolano de Investigaciones Científicas in Caracas. The remainder should be in the museum in Coro. Most tragically, as Cruxent's health deteriorated, many of his field journal notebooks (yearly, going back to the 1940s) had "disappeared". It is unclear what is has remained from his notes on Taima-Taima. However, both Alan Bryan and Ruth Gruhn (Alberta, Canada) still retain their field notes and documentation of the 1976 excavations.

Dr. José R. Oliver
Institute of Archaeology
University College London
31-34 Gordon Square
London WC1H 0PY

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