Vegetation history and human-environment interactions through the late Holocene in Konar Sandal, Kerman, SE Iran
Abstract: The Jiroft valley, in southeastern Iran, was an important agricultural centre since the Early Bronze Age (3rd millennium BCE). The valley is characterized by harsh environmental settings: hot climate with poor rainfall. However, more optimal conditions may have prevailed earlier that supported ancient settlements. A 250-cm sediment core was retrieved from a peat-land at Konar Sandal, a major archaeological find attributed to Jiroft culture. The palynological data from this core was combined with geochemical and sedimentological proxies aimed at establishing the human-environment interactions in the area. The study focus was directed at vegetation history and landscape evolution, hydroclimatic changes and past human activities, that started just after the projected collapse of the Jiroft (4 ka) and extended all the way from the late Bronze Age to the Mongol invasion (0.6 ka). The results indicate that the valley was dominated by Saharo-Sindian open pseudo-savannah vegetation for the last 4000 years. However, due to anthropogenic clearance and intensified agro-pastoral activities, and also climatic factors, the land cover shifted from open xeric scrubland forests to more open, degraded landscapes. The principal human practice in these early settlements was cereal cultivation. But it is likely that during the more arid periods, communities retreated and abandoned agriculture, facilitating successional processes. Such droughts occurred in 4-3.8 ka and 3.4-2.8 ka and were supported by palynological data, C/N and Fe2O3 content. Peat formation was characteristic to the wetland during these arid periods. These droughts corresponded to drought phases detected in other studies, and were attributed to changes in Siberian Anticyclones. Dynamics of Artemisia and desert shrubs indicate milder climate around 3.8-3.4 ka and 2.8-0.6 ka. In the latter episode, during the rule of Persian Empire (ca. 550 BCE-650 CE) and Islamic epoch, the highest vegetation degradation state and most intensive human activities were observed. Some inconspicuous human practices, such as date cultivation, may have occurred on site as an adaptation to extreme environmental conditions.
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