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Keywords:

  • environmental degradation;
  • vegetation dynamics;
  • western Uganda

Abstract

A multi-proxy analysis of microfossils from sedimentary records, together with evidence from historical and archaeological data, has provided evidence of vegetation dynamics and human environment interactions in western Uganda for the last 1000 years. Pollen, fungal spores and phytoliths extracted from sediment cores obtained from a papyrus swamp at Munsa archaeological site indicate a relatively wet and forested environment in western Uganda prior to ca 1000 yr bp (cal 977–1159 ad). A subsequent decline in forest vegetation occurred from ca 920 yr bp (cal 1027–1207 ad). However, the deforestation period occurred during a wet period as registered in the River Nile water records, suggesting a human induced deforestation at Munsa rather than reduced precipitation. Increased numbers of herbivores, presumably domesticated cattle, postdeforestation are evidenced by the presence of dung fungal spores and broad accord with the archaeological evidence for initial occupation of the site at Munsa and the establishment of a mixed economy based on crops, cattle and iron working between 1000 and 1200 ad. From ca 200 yr bp (cal 1647–1952 ad), forest recovery occurred at Munsa site and appears to reflect abandonment of the site, as suggested by archaeological evidence, possibly following a period of prolonged drought and famine between 1600 and 1800 ad, as recounted in the oral rich traditions of western Uganda and also reflected by low water levels of River Nile.