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A late Holocene paleoenvironmental reconstruction from Agua Caliente, southern Belize, linked to regional climate variability and cultural change at the Maya polity of Uxbenká

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 January 2017

Megan K. Walsh*
Dept. of Geography, Central Washington University, Ellensburg, WA 98926, USA
Keith M. Prufer
Dept. of Anthropology, New Mexico State University, Albuquerque, NM 87131, USA
Brendan J. Culleton
Dept. of Anthropology, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA 16802, USA
Douglas J. Kennett
Dept. of Anthropology, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA 16802, USA
*Corresponding author at: Department of Geography, Central Washington University, 400 E. University Way, Ellensburg, WA 98926, USA. Fax: + 1 509 963 1047.E-mail (M.K. Walsh).


We report high-resolution macroscopic charcoal, pollen and sedimentological data for Agua Caliente, a freshwater lagoon located in southern Belize, and infer a late Holocene record of human land-use/climate interactions for the nearby prehistoric Maya center of Uxbenká. Land-use activities spanning the initial clearance of forests for agriculture through the drought-linked Maya collapse and continuing into the historic recolonization of the region are all reflected in the record. Human land alteration in association with swidden agriculture is evident early in the record during the Middle Preclassic starting ca. 2600 cal yr BP. Fire slowly tapered off during the Late and Terminal Classic, consistent with the gradual political demise and depopulation of the Uxbenká polity sometime between ca. 1150 and 950 cal yr BP, during a period of multiple droughts evident in a nearby speleothem record. Fire activity was at its lowest during the Maya Postclassic ca. 950–430 cal yr BP, but rose consistent with increasing recolonization of the region between ca. 430 cal yr BP and present. These data suggest that this environmental record provides both a proxy for 2800 years of cultural change, including colonization, growth, decline, and reorganization of regional populations, and an independent confirmation of recent paleoclimate reconstructions from the same region.

University of Washington

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