Preclassic environmental degradation of Lake Petén Itzá, Guatemala, by the early Maya of Nixtun-Ch’ich’

Brooke A. Birkett, Jonathan Obrist-Farner, Prudence M. Rice, Wesley G. Parker, Peter M.J. Douglas, Melissa A. Berke, Audrey K. Taylor, Jason H. Curtis, Benjamin Keenan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations

Abstract

Paleolimnological evidence indicates the ancient Maya transformed terrestrial ecosystems by felling forest vegetation to construct large civic-ceremonial centers and to expand agriculture. Human settlements influenced lacustrine environments but the effects of Maya activities on aquatic ecosystems remain poorly studied. Here we analyzed a sediment core from Lake Petén Itzá, Guatemala, to infer paleoenvironmental changes resulting from Maya occupation of the archaeological site of Nixtun-Ch’ich’. Increases in charcoal and fecal stanol concentrations indicate Maya occupation of the Candelaria Peninsula by the late Early Preclassic period. Geochemical proxies reveal a period of lake ecosystem alteration during construction and expansion of the city’s urban grid in the Middle and Late Preclassic periods. Depopulation of the city in the Terminal Preclassic resulted in a decline in lake trophic state. Whereas previous studies of Petén waterbodies have indicated depressed lacustrine primary production, the core collected near Nixtun-Ch’ich’ shows evidence of ancient Maya lake ecosystem deterioration.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number59
JournalCommunications Earth and Environment
Volume4
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was partially supported by NSF/GSA (National Science Foundation/Geological Society of America) Graduate Student Geoscience Grant # 13171-21, which is funded by NSF Award # 1949901. This research was also partially supported by a Society for Sedimentary Geology (SEPM) Student Research Grant, the Dr. Alfred Spreng Graduate Research Award (Missouri University of Science and Technology), and an NSF-EAR Postdoctoral Research Fellowship to WGP. We thank Evelyn Chan for arranging the construction of the coring platform in Petén and the Guatemalan Instituto de Antropología e Historia (IDEAH) for permission to export the cores. We also thank Defensores de la Naturaleza and the Consejo Nacional de Áreas Protegidas (CONAP) for providing personnel to help with coring. We would also thank E. Duarte for assistance with age-depth modeling and charcoal analysis, P. Cho for assistance with n -alkane quantifications, T.H. Bui for assistance with n -alkane δ13C measurements, and A. Hoffmann for general laboratory assistance. We also thank M. Brenner for insightful discussions and for his thoughtful review of an earlier version of this manuscript, and we thank J. Maurer, D. Wronkiewicz, and D. Borrok for insightful discussions.

Funding Information:
This work was partially supported by NSF/GSA (National Science Foundation/Geological Society of America) Graduate Student Geoscience Grant # 13171-21, which is funded by NSF Award # 1949901. This research was also partially supported by a Society for Sedimentary Geology (SEPM) Student Research Grant, the Dr. Alfred Spreng Graduate Research Award (Missouri University of Science and Technology), and an NSF-EAR Postdoctoral Research Fellowship to WGP. We thank Evelyn Chan for arranging the construction of the coring platform in Petén and the Guatemalan Instituto de Antropología e Historia (IDEAH) for permission to export the cores. We also thank Defensores de la Naturaleza and the Consejo Nacional de Áreas Protegidas (CONAP) for providing personnel to help with coring. We would also thank E. Duarte for assistance with age-depth modeling and charcoal analysis, P. Cho for assistance with n-alkane quantifications, T.H. Bui for assistance with n-alkane δC measurements, and A. Hoffmann for general laboratory assistance. We also thank M. Brenner for insightful discussions and for his thoughtful review of an earlier version of this manuscript, and we thank J. Maurer, D. Wronkiewicz, and D. Borrok for insightful discussions. 13

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023, The Author(s).

Continental Scientific Drilling Facility tags

  • OGPI

Fingerprint

Dive into the research topics of 'Preclassic environmental degradation of Lake Petén Itzá, Guatemala, by the early Maya of Nixtun-Ch’ich’'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this