Institute of Archaeology
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First for Archaeology in UK 2015

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Lindsay Duncan

Changing scales of human impact and the role of archaeological deposits in the formation of the modern landscape: A case study at Marco Gonzalez, Ambergris Caye, Belize

The Maya site of Marco Gonzalez on Ambergris Caye, Belize, has a long evidence of occupation from the Preclassic to the Postclassic. The site’s area is characterised by its distinctive broadleaf forest and dark earths, in strong contrast to the surrounding mangroves and sandy sediments. This research is examining the short- and long-term environmental impacts of human occupation at the site, including an intensive period of salt production in the Late Classic period, which may have contributed to the development of the site’s distinctive vegetation and sediments. Human effects on the environment are frequently viewed from a negative position; one of degradation and overexploitation. However, it is apparent that some of the activities at Marco Gonzalez had unexpected positive impacts, such as the development of fertile dark earths.

The primary focus is on waste; occupation materials in the ground, which become part of the sediment history of the site and ultimately contribute to the ecological trajectory of the site area through subsequent vegetation development. This research is therefore characterising the site’s occupation history (to determine waste contribution) and environment history, which will be combined with data on sediment development to model environmental impact. This is not to assume causal relationships, but instead to portray human activity as one part of the complex environmental history of the site, contributing to landscape transformation.

In the modern world, land-use is an extremely important issue, including maintenance of soil fertility and stability, land remediation and crop maximisation, relating to feeding ever growing populations, and maximising efficiency of land use within defined areas. Waste, as occupational debris (and also degradation of urban environments), occupies large areas of land and therefore the understanding of long-term impact is highly important. It is hoped that this type of research can inform modern waste and land management discussions, to encourage consideration of sustainability within a much longer framework than that currently used by policymakers.

Funding organisation

  • Institute for Sustainable Resources, UCL

Supervisors

 Educational background

  • BSc Archaeology, UCL, 2005
  • MA Archaeology, UCL, 2008

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