Site formation processes and hunter-gatherers use of space in a tropical environment: A geo-ethnoarchaeological approach from South India

David E. Friesem, Noa Lavi, Marco Madella, P. Ajithprasad, Charles French

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Hunter-gatherer societies have distinct social perceptions and practices which are expressed in unique use of space and material deposition patterns. However, the identification of archaeological evidence associated with hunter-gatherer activity is often challenging, especially in tropical environments such as rainforests. We present an integrated study combining ethnoarchaeology and geoarchaeology in order to study archaeological site formation processes related to hunter-gatherers' ways of living in tropical forests. Ethnographic data was collected from an habitation site of contemporary hunter-gatherers in the forests of South India, aimed at studying how everyday activities and way of living dictate patterns of material deposition. Ethnoarchaeological excavations of abandoned open-air sites and a rock-shelter of the same group located deep in the forests, involved field observations and sampling of sediments from the abandoned sites and the contemporary site. Laboratory analyses included geochemical analysis (i.e., FTIR, ICP-AES), phytolith concentration analysis and soil micromorphology. The results present a dynamic spatial deposition pattern of macroscopic, microscopic and chemical materials, which stem from the distinctive ways of living and use of space by hunter-gatherers. This study shows that postdepositional processes in tropical forests result in poor preservation of archaeological materials due to acidic conditions and intensive biological activity within the sediments. Yet, the multiple laboratory-based analyses were able to trace evidence for activity surfaces and their maintenance practices as well as localized concentrations of activity remains such as the use of plants, metals, hearths and construction materials.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0164185
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2016
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 Friesem et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • General
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology


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