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Keywords:

  • Amazonia;
  • aridity;
  • charcoal;
  • drought;
  • fossil pollen;
  • human disturbance;
  • Holocene;
  • maize;
  • manioc;
  • rain forest

Abstract

Aim  To investigate the influence of Holocene climatic and human-induced changes on a region of high biodiversity in southern Peruvian Amazonia.

Location  Four palaeoecological records from separate lakes within a lake district close to the modern city of Puerto Maldonado, Peru.

Results  The lakes provide a palaeoecological record spanning the last 8200 years. A mid-Holocene dry event is documented in all of the records that extend back > 6000 years. The dry event appears to have lasted from c. 7200 yr bp until c. 3300 yr bp. The onset of wetter conditions coincides with the formation of the youngest of the four lakes. The earliest occupation of these sites is inferred from the presence of charcoal at 7200 yr bp, and the first crop pollen is found at 3630 yr bp. Lakes that were regularly occupied were colonized soon after they formed. A reduction in charcoal concentration and the absence of crop pollen after c. 500 bp in all lakes is consistent with site abandonment following conquest.

Main conclusions  The mid-Holocene dry event is suggested to be part of a time-transgressive drying that tracked from north to south in both the Andes and the Amazon lowlands. The last millennium may represent the period of highest sustained lake levels within the Holocene. The proximity of the four lakes allows a landscape-scale analysis of the spatial extent of human disturbance centred on a known site of human occupation and reveals the highly localized nature of pre-Columbian anthropogenic disturbance in Amazonian landscapes. Inferences regarding widespread pre-Columbian landscape modification by indigenous peoples must take into account key site attributes, such as seasonality and proximity to rivers.