James M. Adovasio, Ph.D., D.Sc., co-author of the study and a world acclaimed archaeologist at FAU’s Harbor Branch, is the foremost authority on ancient textiles and materials such as those used in basketry. Photo: FAU

Societies in the Americas were complex and thrived millennia before the arrival of Europeans, according to a growing body of anthropological and genetic research.

The latest indication of a complex society in Peru comes in the form of – baskets. 

The complex textiles show elaborate hand weaving supported by a trading network in the region, according to a study in the journal Science Advances.

The excavations at Huaca Prieta, on the Pacific coast, took six years and unearthed thousands of artifacts, including the baskets.

“Like so many of the materials that were excavated, even the baskets reflect a level of complexity that signals a more sophisticated society as well as the desire for and a means for showing social stature,” said James Adovasio, one of the authors, from Florida Atlantic University.

The site was originally excavated in the 1940s, and many artifacts are housed in the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

But the latest excavation from 2007 to 2013 was much more widespread, involving dozens of excavation units, trenches, test pits, and other looks into the soil.

The baskets were a particular focus. They were made from a variety of materials including a local reed still used today, as well as domesticated cotton and elaborate dyes.

“To make these complicated textiles and baskets indicates that there was a standardized or organized manufacturing process in place and that all of these artifacts were much fancier than they needed to be for that time period,” said Adovasio.

The remnants of the settlement showed on-and-off human habitation from 15,000 to 8,000 years ago.

The area has a wide diversity of natural resources, and the settlement location is about halfway between the sea and the mountains. The ancient peoples used these to their advantage. Included among the remains are sharks, sea lions, deer, marine birds, bony fish, still showing evidence of consumption through cutting, breaking, and burning. The flora that were apparently part of the diet included chile peppers, squash, beans, avocados, and medicinal plants.

“All of these things together tell us that these early humans were engaged in very complicated social relationships with each other and that these fancy objects all bespeak that kind of social messaging,” added Adovasio.