Two Holocene paleofire records from Peten, Guatemala: Implications for natural fire regime and prehispanic Maya land use

Global and Planetary Change
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Abstract

Although fire was arguably the primary tool used by the Maya to alter the landscape and extract resources, little attention has been paid to biomass burning in paleoenvironmental reconstructions from the Maya lowlands. Here we report two new well-dated, high-resolution records of biomass burning based on analysis of macroscopic fossil charcoal recovered from lacustrine sediment cores. The records extend from the early Holocene, through the full arc of Maya prehistory, the Colonial, and post-Colonial periods (~ 9000 cal yr BP to the present). (Hereafter BP) The study sites, Lago Paixban and Lago Puerto Arturo, are located in northern Peten, Guatemala. Results provide the first quantitative analysis from the region demonstrating that frequent fires have occurred in the closed canopy forests since at least the early Holocene (~ 9000 BP), prior to occupation by sedentary agriculturalists. Following the arrival of agriculture around 4600 BP, the system transitioned from climate controlled to anthropogenic control. During the Maya period, changes in fire regime are muted and do not appear to be driven by changes in climate conditions. Low charcoal influx and fire frequency in the Earliest Preclassic period suggest that land use strategies may have included intensive agriculture much earlier than previously thought. Preliminary results showing concentrations of soot/black-carbon during the middle and late Preclassic periods are lower than modern background values, providing intriguing implications regarding the efficiency of Maya fuel consumption.

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Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Two Holocene paleofire records from Peten, Guatemala: Implications for natural fire regime and prehispanic Maya land use
Series title Global and Planetary Change
DOI 10.1016/j.gloplacha.2015.09.012
Volume 138
Year Published 2016
Language English
Publisher Elsevier
Contributing office(s) Geology, Minerals, Energy, and Geophysics Science Center
Description 11 p.
First page 82
Last page 92
Country Guatemala
State Peten
Online Only (Y/N) N
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N