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Las Vegas Archaeofaunas

Zooarchaeological Data from Early Holocene Las Vegas Occupations in Southwestern Ecuador

Project Abstract

Banner image credit: General View of Site OGSE-80, (Sothert 1988:Fig.2.5)


A project was initiated in 2007 to assemble and analyze the entire collection of invertebrate and vertebrate archaeofaunal specimens recovered from Las Vegas phase associations in southwestern Ecuador. Only small samples had been previously identified, while the bulk of recovered materials were housed in the collections of the Environmental Archaeology Program of the Florida Museum of Natural History (FLMNH) and at the field laboratory in Cautivo, Santa Elena Province, Ecuador. Vertebrate specimens were analyzed at the FLMNH, the Archaeological Analytical Research Facility (AARF) of Binghamton University, the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH)and the Musée National d’ Histoire Naturelle (MNHN). Invertebrate specimens were analyzed in Cautivo. The analyses (Stahl and Stothert 2020) add significant detail concerning early sedentary maritime foraging and horticulture from one of the best known Early Holocene archaeological cultures in the western hemisphere.

Project Description

The Las Vegas culture is known from its type Site 80 and as many as 31 smaller campsites in the extreme western portion of the Santa Elena Peninsula, Ecuador. At Site 80, a pre-Vegas phase occupation may date to before 13,000 Calib BC, with ample evidence for as much as 5,000 years of subsequent occupation. The Las Vegas phase occupations reveal evidence for early horticulture, sedentary foraging, hunting, and fishing, and elaborate burial practices with almost 200 recovered individuals. Site 80 was first discovered in 1964, and major excavations were undertaken from 1977 to 1985 under the auspices of the Banco Central del Ecuador, with research continuing into subsequent decades. Most of the site now lies within the precinct of the Museo Los Amantes de Sumpa. Previously, small samples of associated archaeofaunal material were identified and recorded (Byrd 1976; Stothert 1988). In 2007, efforts were initiated to identify and record the entire sample of recovered invertebrate (identified MNI=21,886) and vertebrate (n=45,120) archaeofaunas. The assemblage presented here consists of 41,633 mammalian and unidentifiable archaeofaunal specimens recovered from seven archaeological sites. The entire faunal data base is detailed in Stahl and Stothert (2020).

Methodological Notes

Archaeofaunal specimens were recovered from seven Las Vegas archaeological sites in the Santa Elena Peninsula of Southwestern Ecuador. Analyzed assemblages in this study include specimens that had been curated since the 1970s in the collections of the Environmental Archaeology Program of the Florida Museum of Natural History (FLMNH), and specimens that were stored at the field laboratory in Cautivo, Santa Elena Province, Ecuador. The entire assemblage was sorted in Cautivo and at the Archaeological Analytical Research Facility (AARF) of Binghamton University. Invertebrate specimens were identified at Cautivo. Fish specimens, and herpetological and avian specimens, were sent in their original containers with recorded provenience information inside curation-grade boxes to the Musée National d’ Histoire Naturelle (MNHN) and Millsaps College, respectively. The mammalian specimens were identified through comparison with the collections at the AARF and additional identifications were undertaken in the Department of Mammalogy, American Museum of Natural History (AMNH). Upon completion of this study, all materials were repackaged in their original containers with recorded provenience information and returned in labeled curation-grade boxes for permanent storage to the FLMNH. Preserved specimens were recovered from each site; however, the bulk by number, weight, and volume are associated with Site 80. A total of 41,633 (13,711.52 g) mammalian and indeterminate specimens were tabulated in database files (Paradox), according to: Site, Provenience, Level, Quantity, Weight, Maximum Size, Identification to Class, Order, and Family with associated size (S,M,L), Genus, Element, Portion, Side, Differential Preservation in quartiles of Scan Sites where applicable, Dentition Present, Fusion/Eruption, Heat Modification, Surface Modification, Breakage, and Comments.

Potential Applications of the Data

The Las Vegas Culture is one of the most intensively studied assemblage of an early maritime-based sedentary human occupation in the western hemisphere, with a large burial component, and evidence for early horticulture. It can minimally be used as a standard comparative sample for early archaeological contexts found throughout the neotropics of Panama, Colombia, and Peru.


Analysis of all recovered archaeofaunal specimens was made possible through funding awarded to Peter Stahl from the National Science Foundation (BCS0739602).

Related Publications

Stahl, Peter W. and Karen E. Stothert (eds.) 2020. Las Vegas: The Early Holocene Archaeology of Human Occupation in Coastal Ecuador. University of Pittsburgh Memoirs in Latin American Archaeology No. 25. University of Pittsburgh Center for Comparative Archaeology, Pittsburgh.

Byrd, Kathleen M. 1976. Changing Animal Utilization Patterns and their Implications: Southwest Ecuador (6500 B.C. – A.D. 1400). Unpublished Dissertation, Department of Anthropology. University of Florida, Gainesville.

Stothert, Karen E. 1988. La Prehistoria Temprana de la Península de Santa Elena, Ecuador: Cultura Las Vegas. Miscelánea Antropológica, Serie Monográfica 10. Museos del Banco Central del Ecuador, Guayaquil.

Stahl, Peter W. ms. Identification and Interpretation of Mammalian Archaeofaunal Specimens Recovered from Las Vegas Contexts in Southwestern Ecuador (Vegas Archaeofaunal Specimens.pdf)

Table Field Descriptions

Site: 38, 63, 66, 67, 78, 80, 203

Provenience: context number assigned by excavator

Level: assigned by excavator

Qty: Numerical frequency grouped by category

Wt: .01g increments

Max Size: 5mm increments (maximum surficial length) grouped by category

Class: identification at the level of zoological class (ind indeterminate, mam mammal)

S1: arbitrary designation of SML, Small, Medium, Large

Order: identification at level of zoological order (art artiodactyla, car carnivora, cet cetacea, did didelphimorphia, lag lagomorpha, pil pilosa, pri primates, rod rodentia)

S2: arbitrary designation of SML, Small, Medium, Large

Family: identification at level of zoological family (can canidae, cer cervidae, day dasyproctidae, did didelphidae, ech echimyidae, fel felidae, hom hominidae, lep leporidae, mur muridae, mus mustelidae, myr myrmecophagidae, sci sciuridae, tay tayassuidae)

S3: arbitrary designation of SML, Small, Medium, Large

Genus: identification usually to genus and above, unless specific morphology enabled identification of species

Element: Skeletal element

Portion: Anatomical orientation

Side: RL, Right, Left where appropriate

SS1-7: Scan Sites used to estimate density-mediated attrition following published figures. Where applicable, each estimated preservation in quartiles (1.0, .75, .5, .25). This data base includes measurements for cervidae, canidae, and leporidae)

I, C, P, M: Incisor, Canine, Premolar, Molar –number of each when erupted in Dentary or Maxilla

F/E: fusion/eruption –U=unfused, and occasionally U or D = deciduous teeth, E for erupting teeth in Dentary or Maxilla generally for immature specimens

BURNING B1 B2 (2 Fields, separated if burning stages are different)

Numeral 1Numeral 2
1 Yellow-brown to Pink-brown (220-350 C) 1 Burned over entire piece
2 Dark brown to black (350-400 C) 2 Burned Proximal
3 Dark blue-gray to light grey (400-500 C) 3 Burned Middle
4 Pink-grey to white (Calcined) (500 C) 4 Burned Distal
5 Burned Prox. and Md.
6 Burned Dist. and Md.
7 Burned Prox. and Dist.
8 Burned Interior Only
9 Burned Exterior Only
0 Burned in part


  • a rticulated
  • b abraded
  • c hew/puncture
  • d igested
  • g rodent gnaw
  • I ntrusive
  • m odified
  • p olished
  • r oot staining
  • w eather (+ numeric stage)
  • x cut/saw (+ description of separate sheet)
  • y calcium carbonate/caliche

BREAKAGE (2 fields to record Mixed Breakage Patterns, e.g. HE1; LO3 etc.)

Numeral 1 Numeral 2
HE Helical 1 Proximal
TR Transverse 2 Distal
OS Oblique, straight path3 Dorsal
OP Oblique, stepped path4 Ventral
ST Stepped path 5 Medial
LO Longitudinal 6 Lateral
LB Longitudinal and Oblique
TL Transverse and Longitudinal
SA Sagittal
V V-shaped
U Unknown

Comments: general comments: descriptions of cut marks or modification, details of burning, description of tooth eruption, recovery from flotation fraction, photographed, etc.; Byrd# (in Byrd 1976 study) Chase Analysis# (in Stothert 1988 study), FLMNH# (in FLMNH collection with original comments), *AMNH# (pulled for identification in AMNH collection), pulled for DNA (aDNA analysis of canid elements)

Current Disposition of the Collection

Upon completion of this study, all materials were repackaged in their original containers with recorded provenience information and returned in labeled curation-grade boxes for permanent storage to the FLMNH. Invertebrate collections remain in Cautivo, Ecuador.

Suggested Citation

Peter W Stahl. (2020) "Las Vegas Archaeofaunas". Released: 2020-05-18. Open Context. <> DOI:

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