Fire and human record at Lake Victoria, East Africa, during the Early Iron Age: Did humans or climate cause massive ecosystem changes?

Dario Battistel, Elena Argiriadis, Natalie Kehrwald, Maddalena Spigariol, James M. Russell, Carlo Barbante

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26 Scopus citations


Organic molecular markers determined in a sediment core (V95-1A-1P) from Lake Victoria (East Africa) were used to reconstruct the history of human impact and regional fire activity during the Early Iron Age (~2400 to ~1100 yr BP). Fire history was reconstructed using levoglucosan and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) as markers for biomass burning that demonstrate two distinct fire periods peaking at 1450–1700 and 1850–2050 cal. yr BP. A partial correlation between levoglucosan and PAHs is interpreted as different transport behaviors and burn temperatures affecting the proxies. A fecal sterol index (CoP-Index) indicates the presence of humans near the lakeshore, where the CoP-Index lags a few centuries behind the fire peaks. The CoP-Index peaks between 1850 and1950 cal. yr BP and between 1400 and 1500 cal. yr BP. Retene, a PAH that indicates softwood combustion, differs from other PAHs and levoglucosan by abruptly increasing at ~1650 cal. yr BP and remaining high until 1200 cal. yr BP. This increase may potentially signal human activity in that the development of metallurgy and/or ceramic production requires highly efficient fuels. However, this increase in retene occurs at the same time as severe drought events centered at ~1500 and ~2000 yr BP where the droughts and associated woodland to grassland transition may have resulted in more intense fires. The grassland expansion could have created favorable conditions for human activities and triggered settlement growth that in turn may have created a positive feedback for further landscape opening.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)997-1007
Number of pages11
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 1 2017

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016, © The Author(s) 2016.

Copyright 2017 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • biomarkers
  • East Africa
  • fire activity
  • human impact
  • Iron Age
  • Lake Victoria

Continental Scientific Drilling Facility tags

  • V95


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