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Widespread population decline in South America correlates with mid-Holocene climate change

Riris, P; Arroyo-Kalin, M; (2019) Widespread population decline in South America correlates with mid-Holocene climate change. Scientific Reports , 9 , Article 6850. 10.1038/s41598-019-43086-w. Green open access

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Abstract

Quantifying the impacts of climate change on prehistoric demography is crucial for understanding the adaptive pathways taken by human populations. Archaeologists across South America have pointed to patterns of regional abandonment during the Middle Holocene (8200 to 4200 cal BP) as evidence of sensitivity to shifts in hydroclimate over this period. We develop a unified approach to investigate demography and climate in South America and aim to clarify the extent to which evidence of local anthropic responses can be generalised to large-scale trends. We achieve this by integrating archaeological radiocarbon data and palaeoclimatic time series to show that population decline occurred coeval with the transition to the initial mid-Holocene across South America. Through the analysis of radiocarbon dates with Monte Carlo methods, we find multiple, sustained phases of downturn associated to periods of high climatic variability. A likely driver of the duration and severity of demographic turnover is the frequency of exceptional climatic events, rather than the absolute magnitude of change. Unpredictable levels of tropical precipitation had sustained negative impacts on pre-Columbian populations lasting until at least 6000 cal BP, after which recovery is evident. Our results support the inference that a demographic regime shift in the second half of the Middle Holocene were coeval with cultural practices surrounding Neotropical plant management and early cultivation, possibly acting as buffers when the wild resource base was in flux.

Type: Article
Title: Widespread population decline in South America correlates with mid-Holocene climate change
Location: England
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1038/s41598-019-43086-w
Publisher version: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-019-43086-w
Language: English
Additional information: This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article’s Creative Commons license, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article’s Creative Commons license and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/.
Keywords: Climate-change adaptation, Climate-change impacts, Palaeoecology, Population dynamics, Tropical ecology
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS > Institute of Archaeology
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS > Institute of Archaeology > Institute of Archaeology Gordon Square
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10074193
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