Comparative Legacies of Human Land Use in the Brazilian Atlantic Forest

Tropical forests have long been considered ‘pristine’ barriers to past human presence. However, a wealth of recent archaeological research, applying some of the latest surveying, modelling, and biomolecular techniques is showing the long history of human occupation and management of these biodiverse habitats. Tropical cultural heritage is now acknowledged as being critical for the development of more effective policy and conservation efforts in tropical forests the world over. Nevertheless, comparative information on the long-term human history of tropical forests at the centennial scale and above remains limited in many key regions.The project aims to understand how long-term human land-use has impacted the Brazilian Atlantic Forest, one of the most threatened tropical forests in the 21st century. Focusing on changes to its ecology, and associated earth systems, caused by human activity, it will capture the timing and extent of environmental impacts between three focal periods. These represent major transitions in subsistence and demographic regimes: Pre-Columbian (before AD1500), Colonial (AD1500-1700), and Early Industrial (AD1700-1808). The project will produce a novel combination of demographic information, settlement data, and multi-proxy palaeoecological records to create the first deep time perspective on how humans have shaped the Atlantic Forest at a biome scale. The comparative analysis of archaeological, historical, and ecological domain knowledge will produce long-term land use data and a ‘usable past’ for climate science, ecosystem restoration, and policy goals that aim to protect this crucial, but threatened, environment into the future.The project will synthesise multifaceted “palaeocultural” and palaeoecological data to compare how different land use regimes have impacted the Atlantic Forest of southern and central Brazil over the long term. The novelty of this research lies in the creation and integration of archaeological and historical data that can inform ongoing efforts to incorporate past human activity into conservation policy and climate models. Accounting for pre-1800 human activity is the next logical step in their development yet major methodological challenges remain, making accurate models of land use history more important than ever. This project targets two prominent problems in this arena: first, the inability to systematically compare prehistoric and historic land use and population data, and second, the difficulty of directly linking environmental and vegetational change to drivers such as past land use. The proposed approach is transferable to other settings, enabling crucial comparisons of the long-term human impacts across the global tropics to take place. Beyond estimates of environmental footprints, the project will also provide a greater understanding of synergies and trade-offs between land use intensity and biodiversity in the Atlantic Forest.

Please find the job offer for our partner project at Bournemouth here:
job advert for the postdoctoral researcher in Archaeological Modelling