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Pre-Columbian landscape impact and agriculture in the Monumental Mound region of the Llanos de Moxos, lowland Bolivia

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 January 2017

Bronwen S. Whitney*
Affiliation:
School of Geosciences, The University of Edinburgh, Drummond St., Edinburgh EH8 9XP, UK
Ruth Dickau
Affiliation:
Department of Archaeology, Laver Bldg., North Park Rd., University of Exeter, Exeter EX4 4QE, UK
Francis E. Mayle
Affiliation:
School of Geosciences, The University of Edinburgh, Drummond St., Edinburgh EH8 9XP, UK Department of Geography and Environmental Science, University of Reading, Whiteknights, Reading RG6 6AB, UK
J. Daniel Soto
Affiliation:
Museo de Historia Natural ‘Noel Kempff Mercado’, Universidad Autónomia Gabriel René Moreno, Av. Irala 565, Casilla 2489, Santa Cruz, Bolivia
José Iriarte
Affiliation:
Department of Archaeology, Laver Bldg., North Park Rd., University of Exeter, Exeter EX4 4QE, UK
*
*Corresponding author. E-mail address: b.whitney@ed.ac.uk (B.S. Whitney).

Abstract

We present a multiproxy study of land use by a pre-Columbian earth mounds culture in the Bolivian Amazon. The Monumental Mounds Region (MMR) is an archaeological sub-region characterized by hundreds of pre-Columbian habitation mounds associated with a complex network of canals and causeways, and situated in the forest–savanna mosaic of the Llanos de Moxos. Pollen, phytolith, and charcoal analyses were performed on a sediment core from a large lake (14 km2), Laguna San José (14°56.97′S, 64°29.70′W). We found evidence of high levels of anthropogenic burning from AD 400 to AD 1280, corroborating dated occupation layers in two nearby excavated habitation mounds. The charcoal decline pre-dates the arrival of Europeans by at least 100 yr, and challenges the notion that the mounds culture declined because of European colonization. We show that the surrounding savanna soils were sufficiently fertile to support crops, and the presence of maize throughout the record shows that the area was continuously cultivated despite land-use change at the end of the earth mounds culture. We suggest that burning was largely confined to the savannas, rather than forests, and that pre-Columbian deforestation was localized to the vicinity of individual habitation mounds, whereas the inter-mound areas remained largely forested.

Type
Original Articles
Copyright
University of Washington

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Pre-Columbian landscape impact and agriculture in the Monumental Mound region of the Llanos de Moxos, lowland Bolivia
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