Jones, John Glendon (1991-12). Pollen evidence of prehistoric forest modification and Maya cultivation in Belize. Doctoral Dissertation. Thesis uri icon


  • Eighty three soil samples from Cobweb Swamp, Belize, were examined for fossil pollen content. These samples, from a series of cores and an excavation profile, were examined in an attempt to establish a basic paleoenvironmental sequence for northern Belize, and to document the earliest arrival of humans into the site area, as well as to identify any evidence of prehistoric forest modification. Pollen data revealed that, prior to around 6000 BC, the climate in northern Belize was probably warmer and drier than today. The subsequent development of the tropical forests was also documented in the pollen record. The earliest evidence of humans in the Cobweb Swamp/Colha area was dated to around 2500 BC, and is clearly marked in the pollen record by deforestation and increases in the frequency of disturbance vegetation. Evidence of Maya cultivation was recorded by fossil pollen grains from maize or corn (Zea mays), probable cotton (Gossypium sp.) and chilis (Capsicum sp.). A pollen grain from manioc (Manihot cf esculentum) was found in an early Maya context and was radiocarbon dated to 1003 BC. To date, this is the first paleobotanical documentation of this plant in the Maya lowlands. Data from this study revealed that pollen analysis can offer information normally unavailable through conventional archaeological means. Clear evidence of early settlement, cultivation, forest modification and site abandonment was obtained from the pollen data. Archaeologists must consider the benefits that palynology can offer in interpreting prehistoric subsistence economies.

publication date

  • December 1991