Columbus’ footprint in Hispaniola: A paleoenvironmental record of indigenous and colonial impacts on the landscape of the central Cibao Valley, northern Dominican Republic

Alvaro Castilla-Beltrán*, Henry Hooghiemstra, Menno L.P. Hoogland, Jaime Pagán-Jiménez, Bas van Geel, Michael H. Field, Maarten Prins, Timme Donders, Eduardo Herrera Malatesta, Jorge Ulloa Hung, Crystal H. McMichael, William D. Gosling, Corinne L. Hofman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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Abstract

The 1100-year sedimentary record of Laguna Biajaca reveals human-driven landscape changes in the central Cibao Valley, Dominican Republic, Hispaniola. This sediment-filled cutoff meander is located in close proximity to pre-Colonial archaeological sites and a Colonial urban hub. It provided a nutrient-rich floodable locus for agricultural activities for indigenous communities and for the first introduction of Old World crops and cattle in the Americas. Integration of paleoecological proxies revealed the formation of a clear-water body surrounded by a palm-rich forested landscape around 1100 cal yr BP. Changes in the drainage system were linked to human-driven deforestation, which also changed the composition of the vegetation and fungal communities around the site between AD 1150 and 1500 (800 and 700 cal yr BP). Pre-Colonial modifications of the landscape were primarily the result of fire-use and small-scale clearings. Crop cultivation developed between AD 1250 and 1450 (700–500 cal yr BP). Within decades after Columbus’ arrival in Hispaniola in AD 1492, the first impacts of European colonization included the abandonment of indigenous sites and the introduction of Old World domesticated animals. During the 15th and 16th centuries the area underwent intensive land-clearing that allowed for larger scale crop cultivation. An increase of aquatic vegetation points to sediment-filling around AD 1700 (250 cal yr BP). At that time, cattle breeding expanded and rapidly provoked eutrophication while, concurrently, monocultures became regionally established. This paper provides a framework of past environmental dynamics and offers an opportunity to place archaeological findings in a context of natural and anthropogenic change.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)66-80
Number of pages15
JournalAnthropocene
Volume22
Early online date18 May 2018
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2018

Keywords

  • Hispaniola
  • Human impacts
  • Landscape change
  • Multi-proxy paleoecological reconstruction

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