Topic description / abstract:
Despite the relatively recent occupation of South America, human populations in the continent have been described as presenting larger morphological variation than expected under a neutral evolutionary model. The rich environmental diversity in the region is therefore hypothesized to have triggered multiple adaptive responses that resulted in rapid anatomical diversification. Recent excavations at the Cuncaicha rock shelter (Peru), located at 4480 meters above sea level yielded five human skeletons dated from ~9 to 3 14C ka cal BP, enabling the study of the anatomy of the earliest humans living at high altitudes. Thus, the aim of this presentation is to analyze the craniometric affinities of the earliest Cuncaicha specimen with other early and late Holocene samples from South America. To do so, CT-scans were obtained for each separate cranial fragment. Once the skull was virtually reconstructed, 2D measurements were registered and compared to morphometric databases that include South American specimens from the early and late Holocene, as well as archaeological sites from the highlands and lowlands. The results obtained so far will be discussed in relation to the possible evolutionary processes that were involved during the early diversification of South American populations.
Lumila Menéndez is a bioanthropologist, with a BA in Anthropology, and a Ph.D. in Natural science, both from the University of La Plata (Argentina). During her PhD she contributed to discuss the strong impact that nutritional components have on the cranial shape of South American populations. She was a post-doctoral fellow at University of Tübingen (Germany), where she is studying the skeletal pattern of the earliest Andean populations living at highlands and currently holds a postdoctoral fellowship at the KLI. Her main research interest is human evolution, specifically the peopling and concomitant morphological diversification of South America. She investigates this with a particular focus on the impact of non-random factors on the skeleton.