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A maize-based ‘Green Revolution’ in pre-Columbian Amazonia?

   School of Geography and Environmental Science

   Applications accepted all year round  Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

About the Project

Background: It is well established that maize has been cultivated across most of Amazonia for at least five millennia as part of a diverse array of crops in a mixed-subsistence or agro-forestry economy. However, there is emerging skeletal carbon isotopic evidence to suggest that, in some parts of the Bolivian Amazon, humans exploited unusually fertile alluvial soils to develop a maize-based agricultural economy, which may have underpinned perhaps the most complex pre-Columbian (pre-AD1492) society to have emerged anywhere in Amazonia – the Monumental Mound Culture (MMC) of the Llanos de Moxos. Understanding the development and decline of this ‘Green Revolution’ may provide important insights into long-term sustainability.

The overall aim of this project: To determine the geographic scale, environmental impact (use of fire) and chronology of maize agriculture associated with the MMC.

Approach and Methods: This will be done via analysis of maize pollen, maize phytoliths, and charcoal from a network of radiocarbon-dated sediment cores from lakes, swamps, and artificial ponds and canals, as well as soil profiles. Fieldwork is not essential, although there are opportunities to visit the study area and receive training in coring techniques. This project complements ongoing palaeoecological and archaeological research within the wider HERCA project (   

Informal enquires are welcome. Please email Professor Frank Mayle: .

Funding Notes

Enquiries are encouraged from those who wish to prepare an application for a PhD studentship to the SWW AHRC Doctoral Training Partnership for a start date of October 2023.
First degree at 2.1 (or overseas equivalent) in archaeology, geography or ecology, ideally with MSc degree in Palaeoecology or related subject area.


de Souza, J., Robinson, M., Maezumi, Y., Capriles, J., Hoggarth, J., Lombardo, U., Novello, V.F., Apaéstegui, J., Whitney, B., Urrego, D.H., Alves, D.T., Rostain, S., Power, M.J., Mayle, F.E., da Cruz Jr., F.W., Hooghiemstra, H., and Iriarte, J. (2019). Climate change and cultural resilience in late Pre-Columbian Amazonia. Nature Ecology and Evolution, 3(7), 1007-1017.
Whitney, B.S., Dickau, R., Mayle, F.E., Walker, J.H., Soto, J.D., and Iriarte, J. (2014). Pre-Columbian raised-field agriculture and land use in the Bolivian Amazon. The Holocene, 24, 231-241.
Whitney, B.S., Dickau, R., Mayle, F.E., Soto, J.D., and Iriarte, J. (2013). Pre-Columbian landscape impact and agriculture in the Monumental Mound Region of the Llanos de Moxos, lowland Bolivia. Quaternary Research, 80, 207-217. "

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