The Paiján culture was an archaeological culture that developed on the northern coast of Peru between 8,700 and 5,900 BCE. It was first described by Peruvian archaeologist Rafael Larco Hoyle in the 1940s from the Pampa de los Fósiles site. Later research, mainly by French archaeologist Claude Chauchat, identified dozens of open air sites, which include camps, workshops and quarries. Most findings are concentrated along the valleys of the rivers Jequetepeque, Cupisnique, Chicama and Moche in the northern coast of Peru; more limited evidences of Paiján presence have been found in the central and south coasts of Peru as well as in the highland site of El Inga in Ecuador.
The Paiján environment was arid with sparse vegetation and small animals such as rodents, lizards and snails; further resources were provided by the sea which at the time was located 15 kilometers farther than today due to a .lower sea level. To adapt to this environment, the Paiján developed long needle–like projectile points which were mounted on hollow shafts of cane or reed and be used as harpoons to catch fish; they also collected snails, hunted small animals such as vizcachas and used grinding stones to process plants.
Early Paiján sites, dated between 8,600 and 8,000 BCE, indicate large bands that moved seasonally between the coastal plains and the western slopes of the Andes; later sites, dated between 8,000 and 6,500 BCE, evidence smaller groups of decreased mobility. According to anthropologist Tom Dillehay, a possible explanation for this change is that an amelioration of the climate increased the availability of wild plants and animals; thus, Paiján people required less movement to meet their requirements while still relying on hunting-gathering.
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- Dillehay, Tom. The Settlement of the Americas: a new prehistory. New York: Basic Books, 2000.
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- Moseley, Michael. The Incas and their ancestors: the archaeology of Peru. London: Thames and Hudson, 2004.