Island resource exploitation by the ancient Maya during periods of climate stress, Ambergris Caye, Belize

Bermingham, Adam, Whitney, Bronwen, Loughlin, Nicholas and Hoggarth, Julie A. (2021) Island resource exploitation by the ancient Maya during periods of climate stress, Ambergris Caye, Belize. Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports, 37. p. 103000. ISSN 2352-409X

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Ancient Maya societies experienced a period of reorganisation and change in settlement patterns associated with social and climate instability at the end of the Classic period (750-1000 CE) and the subsequent Postclassic period (1200-1500 CE). Although it has been proposed that severe droughts and the breakdown of Classic political systems caused a migration of populations towards the coast, we have little evidence of the nature of land-use at coastal sites. Our understanding of subsistence on islands has been shaped by archaeological research indicating marine-based diets, with maize imported from the mainland. Here we provide, for the first time, palaeoecological proxy data that inform on ancient Maya land-use on an island site, located on Ambergris Caye, Belize. Using pollen and charcoal proxies, we present over 6000 years of environmental change and land-use history. Our reconstruction reveals evidence of cultivation, beginning at 2900 BCE and culminating during the Postclassic Period. We demonstrate that periods of higher land-use intensity correlate with climate instability, which corroborates archaeological evidence of migration to coastal locations. We hypothesize that the diverse marine and terrestrial environments of the island provided sustainable resources for the mainland Maya to use during times of both political and climatic stress.

Item Type: Article
Additional Information: Funding information: Funding for the research was supported by a postgraduate research studentship awarded to Adam Bermingham from the Faculty of Engineering and Environment, Northumbria University. Radiocarbon dating support was provided by the NERC Radiocarbon facility (allocation 2118.0418). Fieldwork was supported by a Quaternary Research Association ‘New Researchers Award’ to Adam Bermingham in 2017. Thanks to John F. Carson who co-conducted fieldwork on Ambergris Caye and the logistical support provided by Jan Meerman, Elizabeth Graham, Jan Brown, and Modesto Gutierrez. Thanks to Yoshi Maezumi for advice on charcoal analysis and also to Sebastian Breitenbach for commenting on an earlier version of this manuscript.
Subjects: F400 Forensic and Archaeological Science
F800 Physical and Terrestrial Geographical and Environmental Sciences
Department: Faculties > Engineering and Environment > Geography and Environmental Sciences
Depositing User: Elena Carlaw
Date Deposited: 05 May 2021 16:16
Last Modified: 31 Jul 2021 16:05

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