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Identifying the drivers of Central American rainfall shifts: implications for past, present, and future human behaviour

Author(s): James Baldini ; Keith Prufer ; Yemane Asmerom ; Franziska Lechleitner ; Sebastian Breitenbach

Year: 2017

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Yok Balum Cave’s location at the northernmost extent of the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) combined with its abundance of aragonitic stalagmites makes the site an exceptional archive of paleoclimatic information. Additionally, Yok Balum Cave is located at the heart of the Maya Lowlands, and speleothem-based paleoclimate records from the site can provide invaluable information for archaeological research. Although the Yok Balum record and most other regional climate records strongly suggest that the fragmentation of the Classic Maya Civilisation was contemporaneous with a series of decadal-scale droughts, the cause of these droughts remains enigmatic. A suite of geochemical records from Yok Balum Cave stalagmites imply that the ITCZ migrated southward at that time, but this behaviour is inconsistent with elevated Northern Hemisphere temperatures thought to characterise the Medieval Climate Anomaly. The solution to this paradox likely involves the complex interplay between solar activity, explosive volcanism, and the North Atlantic climate state. Furthermore, reconstructions spanning the last 500 years identify modern industrial activity as a driver of southward ITCZ migration. Considered together, the records from Yok Balum provide an excellent example of how climate change affected past civilisations and underscore the challenges faced by modern societies.

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Identifying the drivers of Central American rainfall shifts: implications for past, present, and future human behaviour. James Baldini, Keith Prufer, Yemane Asmerom, Franziska Lechleitner, Sebastian Breitenbach. Presented at The 81st Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Vancouver, British Columbia. 2017 ( tDAR id: 431966)


Geographic Keywords
Central America

Spatial Coverage

min long: -94.702; min lat: 6.665 ; max long: -76.685; max lat: 18.813 ;

Record Identifiers

Abstract Id(s): 17136

Arizona State University The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation National Science Foundation National Endowment for the Humanities Society for American Archaeology Archaeological Institute of America