South America was the last habitable continent to be colonised by humans: the last journey.

How did the early settlers adapt to this terra incognita and how did they shape the continent’s rich cultural and environmental diversity?

South America was the final continental migratory challenge of humans on their global expansion. This migration took place amidst one of the most significant climatic, environmental, and subsistence regime shifts in human history – the Late Pleistocene/Early Holocene transition – which contributed to the extinction of megafauna (the most recent substantial extinction event in the geological record), plant domestication, and today’s remarkable diversity of indigenous South American groups.

LASTJOURNEY is an ERC-funded interdisciplinary project that explores Late Pleistocene/Early Holocene human adaptations and impacts across the diverse landscapes of northwest South America.
Situated at the geographical gateway to the continent, the project will investigate one of the most momentous demographic dispersals of our species into the diverse environments of northwest South America, encompassing coasts, savannahs and lowland, Sub Andean and Andean tropical forests.

The warmer and wetter conditions of the Holocene transformed landscapes, changing vegetation dynamics and animal habitats and contributing to the mass extinction of megafauna and the establishment of the world’s most biodiverse biome, the Amazon rainforest. Mounting evidence, however, shows that early South Americans had a larger impact on the vegetation and fauna than previously thought. The Late Quaternary Megafaunal Extinction, accounting for the loss of over 80% of large mammal species in South America, coincides with the arrival and spread of humans, suggesting human predation and anthropogenic habitat loss played a significant role. In turn, the extinction of these major ecosystem engineers would have had fundamental impacts on land cover, vegetation succession, fuel load, and nutrient cycling. The reduction in large game species and increasing human population densities have been argued to have led to increased emphasis on plant exploitation and the early process of plant domestication.

LASTJOURNEY brings together an international team of experts to integrate state-of-art archaeology, archaeobotany, zooarchaeology, palaeoecology, palaeoclimatology, molecular genetics and isotope geochemistry to research coupled human and environmental systems.



South America was the final continental migratory challenge of humans on their global expansion.