Year of Publication


Document Type



Arts and Sciences



First Advisor

Thomas Dillehay


This dissertation is a multidisciplinary study combining both archaeological andpaleoecological data to examine the rise of early Formative societies in Uruguay, La Plata Basin.It is contextualized within broader anthropological concerns related to the emergence of culturalcomplexity, the significance of ritual and public architecture in intermediate-level societies, andthe role of human-environment interactions during the mid-Holocene. This investigationgenerated the first Late Quaternary paleoclimatic record, based on pollen and phytolith analyses,documenting that the mid-Holocene (ca. 6,620 to ca. 4,040 bp) was a period of environmentalflux and increased aridity. It describes the occupational history of the Los Ajos site from thecreation of a household-based community integrating a centralized communal space during thePreceramic Mound Component (ca. 4,120 – 3,000- 2,500 bp) to the Ceramic Mound Component(ca. 3,000 2,500 bp to the Contact Period), where Los Ajos acquired a strong public ritualcharacter through the formatilization and spatial segregation of its mounded architecture. Duringthe Ceramic Mound Period, the site exhibited both internal stratification (inner versus outerprecincts) and dual asymmetrical architecture in its central sector, which suggest the emergenceof incipient social differentiation. This study also marks the earliest occurrence of at least twodomesticated crops in the region: corn (Zea mays) and squash (Cucurbita spp.), showing that theearly Formative societies adopted a mixed economy shortly after 4,120 bp. Collectively, theseresults challenge the long-standing view that the La Plata Basin was a marginal area byevidencing an early and idiosyncratic emergence of social complexity never before registered inthis region of South America.