In his second semester at the University of Maine, Louis Fortin switched his major from computer science to anthropology to study history and cultures.
Three years later, the Monmouth, Maine, native was in southern Peru’s Andes Mountains, assisting with research by one of the world’s leading authorities on South America’s earliest inhabitants and the influence of climate on their cultural development.
Fortin was a field assistant to the UMaine research team led by UMaine Professor of Anthropology and Quaternary Studies Daniel Sandweiss. Also on that summer 2004 expedition were undergraduate Benjamin Morris and graduate student Kurt Rademaker.
As part of an ongoing investigation, the archaeologists are studying prehistoric settlements to learn how the first inhabitants arrived and lived in South America. In particular, the researchers are looking for links between coastal and highland paleoindians.
Among their findings at a 3,700-year-old excavation site near Alca were ground stone tools that still had traces of maize and vegetation from the Amazon. The discovery confirmed that highlands inhabitants consumed corn 1,000 years earlier than previously believed. It also opened the possibility of interaction between people of the Andes and the Amazon.
That first summer of fieldwork, Fortin learned about the history and culture of paleoindians and their descendants, including their use of obsidian, the volcanic glass made into weapons and tools.
For the past two summers, Fortin worked in Peru with Rademaker and glacial geologist Gordon Bromley, both UMaine Ph.D. students in the Climate Change Institute, and Claire Todd of the University of Washington, doing field surveys of the glaciated volcanic mountains. Amid the glacial landforms of Peru’s Nevado Firura and Nevado Coropuna, the team mapped archaeological sites, which are among the world’s highest elevation paleoindian settlements.
Their research explores the relationships between climate and environmental change, and the early paleoindians settlement of South America at the end of the last ice age.
This fall, geoarchaeology is the focus of Fortin’s graduate research in the Climate Change Institute.
November – December 2006
Image Description: Louis Fortin