Forging Ahead By Land and By Sea: Archaeology and Paleoclimate Reconstruction in Madagascar
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Madagascar is an exceptional example of island biogeography. Though a large island, Madagascar’s landmass is small relative to other places in the world with comparable levels of biodiversity, endemicity, and topographic and climatic variation. Moreover, the timing of Madagascar’s human colonization and the social-ecological trajectories that followed human arrival make the island a unique case study for understanding the dynamic relationship between humans, environment, and climate. These changes are most famously illustrated by the mass extinction of the island’s megafauna but also include a range of other developments. Given the chronological confluence of human arrival and dramatic transformations of island ecologies, one of the most important overarching questions for research on Madagascar is how best to understand the interconnections between human communities, the environment, and climate. In this review paper, we contribute to the well-established discussion of this complex question by highlighting the potential for new multidisciplinary research collaborations in the southwest part of the island. Specifically, we promote the comparison of paleoclimate indicators from securely dated archaeological and paleontological contexts with Western Indian Ocean climate records, as a productive way to improve the overall resolution of paleoclimate and paleoenvironmental reconstruction for the island. Given new archaeological findings that more than double the length of Madagascar’s human occupation, models of environmental transformation post-human arrival must be reassessed and allow for the possibility of slower and more varied rates of change. Improving the spatial and temporal resolution of paleoclimate reconstruction is critical in distinguishing anthropogenic and climate drivers of environmental change. It will also increase our capacity to leverage archaeological and paleoclimate research toward resolving modern challenges, such as environmental conservation and poverty alleviation.
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