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Holocene Climate Change and Mesoamerican Prehistory: A Highland-Lowland Comparison

Lecture: ARF Brownbag | October 24 | 12-1 p.m. | 101 2251 College (Archaeological Research Facility)

Roger Byrne, Geography, UC Berkeley

Archaeological Research Facility

Thirty years ago climate change was generally rejected as even a partial explanation for important cultural developments in Mesoamerica, the Classic Maya Collapse, for example. More recently, there has been a renewed interest in the possibility of connections between climate change and prehistory and this has resulted in the development of numerous proxy records of climate change in both lowland and highland Mesoamerica, for example: pollen, isotopes, diatoms, and tree-rings. Unfortunately, many of these records have been interpreted uncritically and the net result is that there is still no concensus as to what extent climate change affected prehistoric societies in these archaeologically important areas.

In this presentation, I will review some of the evidence for late Holocene climate change in lowland and highland Mesoamerica. I will further suggest that although the nature of climate change was different in both areas its effects on people were remarkably similar. I will also suggest that some of the key characteristics of late Holocene climate change are clearly evident in the shorter term changes that have characterized Mesoamerican weather and climate during the period for which we have actual weather data.