Human arrival and landscape dynamics in the northern Bahamas. Academic Article uri icon


  • The first Caribbean settlers were Amerindians from South America. Great Abaco and Grand Bahama, the final islands colonized in the northernmost Bahamas, were inhabited by the Lucayans when Europeans arrived. The timing of Lucayan arrival in the northern Bahamas has been uncertain because direct archaeological evidence is limited. We document Lucayan arrival on Great Abaco Island through a detailed record of vegetation, fire, and landscape dynamics based on proxy data from Blackwood Sinkhole. From about 3,000 to 1,000 y ago, forests dominated by hardwoods and palms were resilient to the effects of hurricanes and cooling sea surface temperatures. The arrival of Lucayans by about 830 CE (2 range: 720 to 920 CE) is demarcated by increased burning and followed by landscape disturbance and a time-transgressive shift from hardwoods and palms to the modern pine forest. Considering that Lucayan settlements in the southern Bahamian archipelago are dated to about 750 CE (2 range: 600 to 900 CE), these results demonstrate that Lucayans spread rapidly through the archipelago in less than 100 y. Although precontact landscapes would have been influenced by storms and climatic trends, the most pronounced changes follow more directly from landscape burning and ecosystem shifts after Lucayan arrival. The pine forests of Abaco declined substantially between 1500 and 1670 CE, a period of increased regional hurricane activity, coupled with fires on an already human-impacted landscape. Any future intensification of hurricane activity in the tropical North Atlantic Ocean threatens the sustainability of modern pine forests in the northern Bahamas.

published proceedings

  • Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A

altmetric score

  • 106.826

author list (cited authors)

  • Fall, P. L., van Hengstum, P. J., Lavold-Foote, L., Donnelly, J. P., Albury, N. A., & Tamalavage, A. E.

citation count

  • 5

complete list of authors

  • Fall, Patricia L||van Hengstum, Peter J||Lavold-Foote, Lisa||Donnelly, Jeffrey P||Albury, Nancy A||Tamalavage, Anne E

publication date

  • January 2021