Monday, 3 December 2018

Columbus' environmental impact in the New World: Land use change in the Yaque River valley, Dominican Republic.

Holocene. 2018 Nov;28(11):1818-1835. doi: 10.1177/0959683618788732. Epub 2018 Aug 18. Hooghiemstra H1, Olijhoek T1,2, Hoogland M3, Prins M4, van Geel B1, Donders T2, Gosling W1, Hofman C3. Author information 1 Department of Ecosystem & Landscape Dynamics, Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics, University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, The Netherlands. 2 Department of Physical Geography, Utrecht University, Utrecht, The Netherlands. 3 Faculty of Archaeology, Leiden University, Leiden, The Netherlands. 4 Faculty of Sciences, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Abstract Columbus' arrival in the New World in AD 1492 on the northern coast of Hispaniola was followed by a suite of changes in land-use. We reconstruct environmental change from a 225-cm-long sediment core from site Los Indios from an abandoned and sediment-filled meander of the Yaque River, Cibao Valley, northeastern Dominican Republic. The sediment record starts ca. AD 195 (ca. 1755 cal. yr BP) and the history of the meander infill was monitored by changing grain size distributions, organic matter concentration and pollen from wetland plants. From ca. AD 200 to ca. AD 1525, the pollen record indicates a diverse forest assemblage; however, the presence of pollen from potential crop plants suggest nearby small-scale subsistence crop cultivation. More abundant charcoal after ca. AD 1410 shows Amerindians increasingly used fire. The record of grain size distributions shows that the meander was temporarily part of a low energetic drainage system in which bedload and suspended sediments accumulated. After European colonization of Hispaniola increasing spores of coprophilous fungi evidence that Europeans had introduced during the first decades of colonization cattle in the Cibao Valley which gradually resulted in more open forest. The charcoal record around ca. AD 1650 reflects intensive forest clearing, suggesting that small-scale Pre-Colonial practice of crop cultivation became replaced by large-scale agriculture on the moist and nutrient rich soils along the Yaque River. Further deforestation and signals of erosion suggest that the population of colonists and introduced enslaved labour force must have increased rapidly. After ca. AD 1740 charcoal influx decreased suggesting that last deforestation activities used selective cutting to produce fire wood and timber for construction, rather than burning forest in situ. Two centuries after European colonization, by the 18th century, land-use within the Cibao Valley had become a balance between substantial livestock and crop cultivation (pollen grains have evidenced cereals, maize, and potentially also sugar cane, amaranthaceous crops and tobacco). After ca. AD 1950, swamp vegetation of Typha and Cyperaceae decreased, pointing to an almost fully terrestrialized meander with only few bodies of standing water, reflecting the present-day setting. This multiproxy reconstruction of anthropogenic environmental change shows a clear differentiation between an immediate introduction of livestock and after some 150 years the development of a European style agriculture, providing a context for archaeological investigations. KEYWORDS: Hispaniola; charcoal; colonial period; grain size distributions; land-use change; livestock development; pre-colonial period PMID: 30473597 PMCID: PMC6204650 DOI: 10.1177/0959683618788732 Free PMC Article