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Synchronous environmental and cultural change in the prehistory of the northeastern United States.


ABSTRACT: Climatic changes during the late Quaternary have resulted in substantial, often abrupt, rearrangements of terrestrial ecosystems, but the relationship between these environmental changes and prehistoric human culture and population size remains unclear. Using a database of archaeological radiocarbon dates alongside a network of paleoecological records (sedimentary pollen and charcoal) and paleoclimatic reconstructions, we show that periods of cultural and demographic change in the northeastern United States occurred at the same times as the major environmental-climatic transitions of that region. At 11.6, 8.2, 5.4, and 3.0 kyr BP (10(3) calendar years before present), changes in forest composition altered the distribution, availability, and predictability of food resources which triggered technological adjustments manifested in the archaeological record. Human population level has varied in response to these external changes in ecosystems, but the adoption of maize agriculture during the late Holocene also resulted in a substantial population increase. This study demonstrates the long-term interconnectedness of prehistoric human cultures and the ecosystems they inhabited, and provides a consolidated environmental-cultural framework from which more interdisciplinary research and discussion can develop. Moreover, it emphasizes the complex nature of human responses to environmental change in a temperate region.

SUBMITTER: Munoz SE 

PROVIDER: S-EPMC3009810 | BioStudies | 2010-01-01T00:00:00Z

REPOSITORIES: biostudies

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