The reliability of paleovegetation records inferred from soil phytolith assemblages and SOM (soil organic matter) carbon isotope analysis was examined in light of previous pollen and charcoal reconstructions. The sampled latosol is located in south-central Brazil (Salitre), at a boundary between forest and cerrado. The derived mean age of phytoliths and SOM at each level is the result of a balance between continuous translocation and selective dissolution. It increases with depth in a regular, quantifiable fashion that allows paleoenvironmental interpretation. Phytoliths and SOM tracers first record a savanna phase, associated with the last Holocene long dry period occurring between ca. 5500 and 4500 yr B.P. Two periods of tree community development followed, between ca. 4000 and 3000 and after ca. 970 yr. B.P., leading to the present cerrado/forest association. The dry spell interrupted this trend about 970 ± 60 yr B.P. The second development of woody elements was contemporaneous with an increase in anthropogenic fires. Therefore, climate was more important than fires and human activities in constraining the growth of vegetation during the last nine centuries at Salitre. More generally, despite pedogenic processes, soil phytoliths and δ13C values of the SOM may be accurate tracers of vegetation changes.