Natural History

An Ecological Assessment over Several Millennia

Landscape, a Window to the Past

Climate change, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions all change our natural resources, including: water, biodiversity, mineral resources, etc- and these influence human activities.

Through retracing these various stresses, which have left their imprint over the ages, it is possible to reconstitute the evolution of a landscape and history of a region. Through studies conducted by IRD archaeologists to expose one of the richest Pre-Columbian civilizations, geologists, biologists, and archaeologists were able to come together and combine their knowledge on the archaeological site at La Tolita.

Gold and Corn

The research team analyzed sediment, and the plant remains of a sediment core taken from a marshy prairie located near the site. They showed that the Tolita dominated northern Latin America because of an earthquake that took place 3,000 years ago that exposed gold veins. Furthermore, pollen records in the soil have shown that the Tolita developed agriculture by creating raised fields called “camellones’, ensuring them of harvests despite the onslaught of frequent flooding.

Toward the Return of the Forest

This agriculture made the demographic expansion of the Tolita possible, along with the development of new metallurgical techniques. 2,500 years ago, the increase in the concentration of charcoal in the sediment exposes the significant increase in population and expansion of the La Tolita culture. It was only approximately -1,100 years that researchers witnessed a slowing of human activities and the growth of the tropical forest. How can this decline of the La Tolita civilization be explained? Without any prominent change in the climate or sea level during these 2000 years, internal factors related to the evolution of this civilization and the arrival of other populations have been advanced.

The new approach of “ecological assessment” over several millennia can be applied to various other sensitive regions. With the combination of biology, geology and archaeology, it helps establish long-term climate, tectonic and human impacts. This can have interesting applications in terms of the sustainable development of these territories.



Contributing Source: Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (IRD)

Header Image: WikiPedia


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