Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Geography and Anthropology

Document Type



The discovery of ancient wood, preserved below the seafloor in a shallow mangrove lagoon in Paynes Creek National Park, Belize, provides the opportunity to study human-environment interaction for an aspect of society that can rarely be glimpsed. Taxonomic identification of construction wood and charcoal at Early Classic (A.D. 300-600) Chan B’i, and Late Classic (A.D. 600-900) Atz’aam Na, are reported and discussed to assess forest exploitation strategies and species selection over time. Principles of optimal foraging are applied to interpret the specific contexts of human behavior in wood selection. Insights from the Annales School of French Structural History and the temporal framework of Fernand Braudel are employed to discuss the particulars of wood selection at Paynes Creek in relation to broader socio-environmental processes and structures. Black mangrove (Avicennia germinans) dominates the Early Classic construction wood assemblage. Charcoal at Chan’ Bi demonstrates a preference for four species, two mangrove and two broadleaf. The Late Classic construction wood is characterized by greater variability than the Early Classic, and an absence of mangrove species. When considered in the environmental context, identified species conform to principles of optimal foraging, with efficiency a primary concern in foraging behavior. The change in the wood assemblage over time suggests overexploitation of forest resources, resulting in deforestation of the local landscape. Land use and deforestation are linked to the wider social context in which growing inland populations created increased demand for salt, putting greater pressure on the forest resources exploited by the Paynes Creek salt works for fuel and timber.



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Committee Chair

McKillop, Heather