Pre-Columbian landscape impact and agriculture in the Monumental Mound region of the Llanos de Moxos, lowland Bolivia

Bronwen Whitney, Ruth Dickau, Francis Mayle, J. Daniel Soto, José Iriarte

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

47 Citations (Scopus)


We present a multiproxy study of land use by a pre-Columbian earth mounds culture in the Bolivian Amazon. The Monumental Mounds Region (MMR) is an archaeological sub-region characterized by hundreds of pre-Columbian habitation mounds associated with a complex network of canals and causeways, and situated in the forest–savanna mosaic of the Llanos de Moxos. Pollen, phytolith, and charcoal analyses were performed on a sediment core from a large lake (14 km2), Laguna San José (14°56.97′S, 64°29.70′W). We found evidence of high levels of anthropogenic burning from AD 400 to AD 1280, corroborating dated occupation layers in two nearby excavated habitation mounds. The charcoal decline pre-dates the arrival of Europeans by at least 100 yr, and challenges the notion that the mounds culture declined because of European colonization. We show that the surrounding savanna soils were sufficiently fertile to support crops, and the presence of maize throughout the record shows that the area was continuously cultivated despite land-use change at the end of the earth mounds culture. We suggest that burning was largely confined to the savannas, rather than forests, and that pre-Columbian deforestation was localized to the vicinity of individual habitation mounds, whereas the inter-mound areas remained largely forested.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)207-217
JournalQuaternary Research
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2013


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