Pre-Columbian fire management and control of climate-driven floodwaters over 3,500 years in southwestern Amazonia

Duncan, Neil A., Loughlin, Nicholas J. D., Walker, John H., Hocking, Emma and Whitney, Bronwen (2021) Pre-Columbian fire management and control of climate-driven floodwaters over 3,500 years in southwestern Amazonia. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 118 (40). e2022206118. ISSN 0027-8424

PNAS 2020-22206 Revised SI.pdf

Download (1MB) | Preview
PNAS 2020-22206 Revised Manuscript.pdf - Supplemental Material

Download (216kB) | Preview
Official URL:


In landscapes that support economic and cultural activities, human communities actively manage environments and environmental change at a variety of spatial scales that complicate the effects of continental-scale climate. Here, we demonstrate how hydrological conditions were modified by humans against the backdrop of Holocene climate change in southwestern Amazonia. Paleoecological investigations (phytoliths, charcoal, pollen, diatoms) of two sediment cores extracted from within the same permanent wetland, ∼22 km apart, show a 1,500-y difference in when the intensification of land use and management occurred, including raised field agriculture, fire regime, and agroforestry. Although rising precipitation is well known during the mid to late Holocene, human actions manipulated climate-driven hydrological changes on the landscape, revealing differing histories of human landscape domestication. Environmental factors are unable to account for local differences without the mediation of human communities that transformed the region to its current savanna/forest/wetland mosaic beginning at least 3,500 y ago. Regional environmental variables did not drive the choices made by farmers and fishers, who shaped these local contexts to better manage resource extraction. The savannas we observe today were created in the post-European period, where their fire regime and structural diversity were shaped by cattle ranching.

Item Type: Article
Additional Information: Funding information: Funding for this research was provided through a US–UK collaborative funding partnership with the NSF (1758273) and the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AH/S00128X/1). Fieldwork was carried out under the auspices of the Bolivia Ministry of Cultures, Unidad Nacional de Arqueología y Museos, and Museo Regional Arqueologico “Yacuma,” and with the kind assistance of the people of Santa Ana del Yacuma and Comunidad Miraflores, Provincia Yacuma, Departamento del Beni, Bolivia.
Uncontrolled Keywords: pre-Colombian Amazony, paleoenvironment, hydrological change, agriculture, landscape domestication
Subjects: D700 Agricultural Sciences
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: 29 Oct 2021 14:52
Last Modified: 07 Dec 2021 03:30

Actions (login required)

View Item View Item


Downloads per month over past year

View more statistics