William J. Pestle
Grant TypePost PhD Research Grant
Institutional AffiliationMiami, U. of
Grant numberGr. 10393
Approve DateOctober 11, 2022
Project TitlePestle, WIlliam (Miami, U. of) "Assessing Foraging Behaviors and Paleoenvironmental Change among the Earliest Inhabitants of Southwestern Puerto Rico"
Recent archaeological survey on the coast of southwestern Puerto Rico has revealed a landscape of dozens of heretofore undocumented shell mounds. While absolute dates for these sites are not yet available, several independent lines of evidence suggest cultural association with some of the earliest peoples of the island. Notably, nearly 95% of the countless millions of shells that make up the mounds are not from the types of marine habitats (mangroves, seagrass beds, and mud flats) that are, today, most proximate, instead, the overwhelming majority are from hard-bottom substrates, which lie several kilometers distant. This finding would appear either to: a) challenge assumptions about the supposedly optimal foraging behaviors of the people who built them, b) suggest site formation at a time when local habitat composition was different, or c) indicate anthropogenic depredation of more proximate taxa at a time prior to the formation of these mounds. The work proposed here, which will combine archaeological excavation and paleoenvironmental reconstruction, provides a means for disentangling these otherwise equifinal explanations and will provide novel insights into fundamental anthropological questions about the behavioral dynamics of coastal foraging peoples, human-environment interaction, and anthropogenic alteration of local environments by small-scale prehistoric human societies.