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An 8700 year paleoclimate reconstruction from the southern Maya lowlands

November 1, 2014

Analysis of a sediment core from Lago Puerto Arturo, a closed basin lake in northern Peten, Guatemala, has provided an ∼8700 cal year record of climate change and human activity in the southern Maya lowlands. Stable isotope, magnetic susceptibility, and pollen analyses were used to reconstruct environmental change in the region. Results indicate a relatively wet early to middle Holocene followed by a drier late Holocene, which we interpret as reflecting long-term changes in insolation (precession). Higher frequency variability is more likely attributable to changes in ocean/atmosphere circulation in both the North Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans. Pollen and isotope data show that most of the period of prehispanic agricultural settlement, i.e. ∼5000–1000 cal yr BP, was characterized by drier conditions than previous or subsequent periods. The presence ofZea (corn) pollen through peak aridity during the Terminal Classic period (∼1250–1130 cal yr BP) suggests that drought may not have had as negative an impact as previously proposed. A dramatic negative shift in isotope values indicates an increase in precipitation after ∼950 cal yr BP (hereafter BP).