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A 4000-Year Lacustrine Record of Environmental Change in the Southern Maya Lowlands, Petén, Guatemala

  • Michael F. Rosenmeier (a1), David A. Hodell (a1), Mark Brenner (a1), Jason H. Curtis (a1) and Thomas P. Guilderson (a2)...

A 4000-yr sediment core record from Lake Salpetén, Guatemala, provides evidence for Maya-induced forest clearance and consequent soil erosion between ∼1700 cal yr B.C. and 850 cal yr A.D. Radiocarbon ages of wood, seeds, and charcoal support an age-depth model with average errors of ±110 cal yr. Relatively low carbonate δ18O values between 1300 and 400 cal yr B.C. coincide with pollen evidence for forest loss, consistent with increased surface and groundwater flow to the lake. Minimum δ18O values between 400 cal yr B.C. and 150 cal yr A.D. suggest a high lake level, as do 14C-dated aquatic gastropods as much as 7.5 m above the present lake stage. High lake levels resulted from reduced evaporation-to-precipitation ratios, increased hydrologic input caused by anthropogenic deforestation, or both. The Preclassic abandonment (150 A.D.) and Early Classic/Late Classic boundary (550 A.D.) are marked by relatively high δ18O values indicating reduced lake levels. Oxygen isotope composition increased further coincident with the Terminal Classic Maya demographic decline between 800 and 900 A.D. This period of high δ18O may have been caused by the greater aridity that has been documented in northern Yucatán lakes or by decreased hydrologic input to the lake as a consequence of forest recovery. Reduced soil erosion after 850 cal yr A.D. coincided with the Terminal Classic Maya demographic decline and permitted forest recovery and resumption of organic sedimentation.

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Quaternary Research
  • ISSN: 0033-5894
  • EISSN: 1096-0287
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