Demography, Environmental Change, and Climate Variability at the Classic Maya Center of Uxbenká in Southern Belize

Authors: Amy E. Thompson*, University of Texas at Austin, Keith M. Prufer, University of New Mexico , Andrew D. Wickert, University of Minnesota - Twin Cities, Douglas J. Kennett, University of California - Santa Barbara
Topics: Paleoenvironmental Change, Human-Environment Geography
Keywords: Lidar, Environmental Change, Paleoclimate, Landscapes, Maya, Belize
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/11/2021
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:15 AM
Room: Virtual 36
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


High-resolution proxies for understanding demography and paleoenvironments allows for interdisciplinary assessments on how humans respond to climate variability, especially in correlation with periods of wide-spread demographic shifts. Using a decade of interdisciplinary research in southern Belize, we assess demographic shifts in relation to climate variability and long-term environmental change at the Classic Maya polity of Uxbenká. We use high-resolution lidar data, archaeological correlates, and the summed probability distribution (SPDs) of 240 high-precision AMS 14C dates from settlement, agricultural, and ceremonial contexts to model the demographic growth and decline across the landscape. Water availability is hydrologically modeled based on modern daily rainfall records and the subannual paleoclimate precipitation from a speleothem record from a nearby cave, Yok Balum. We evaluate how the behaviors of Classic Maya of Uxbenká, including changes in population density, massive landscape modifications, and subsistence practices, relate to environmental and climate change by comparing the cultural (SPDs and archaeological correlates) and climate proxies over time. Our data suggests that the growth and decline of Uxbenká generally track the regional climate changes. Shifts in demography and archaeological correlates for human behaviors can inform human responses to climate variability in the past and provide insights into how global societies today may respond to climate change.

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