Date of Award

12-2016

Level of Access

Campus-Only Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

Department

Quaternary and Climate Studies

Advisor

Jacquelyn Gill

Second Committee Member

Daniel Sandweiss

Third Committee Member

Brenda Hall

Abstract

The warrah (Duscicyon australis), also known as the Falkland Islands wolf, was the only terrestrial mammal native to the Falkland Islands when Europeans arrived in the seventeenth century. The lack of definitive evidence of a pre-European human presence, coupled with the expansive channel separating the islands from mainland South America, raises questions about how and when the extinct, endemic D. australis arrived in the islands. Two competing theories have been proposed to explain the presence of D. australis on the Falklands: 1) the warrah crossed a hypothetical ice bridge at the Last Glacial Maximum (21,000 B.P.) when sea level was lower than present, and 2) prehistoric humans traveling from southern South America brought the warrah to the Falklands via canoes. To date, there has been no systematic investigation of whether humans were present in the Falkland Islands prior to European arrival in the eighteenth century. This study seeks to address that gap, using a combined approach of archaeology and paleoecological charcoal analysis to assess whether there is direct (e.g., artifacts) or indirect (e.g., changes in fire regime) evidence for a prehistoric human presence.

I collected peat cores from multiple locations throughout the Falklands and preformed a systematic search for archaeological remains. Each peat core was processed and analyzed for charcoal and loss on ignition data. At New Island the close association of marine mammal and bird bone piles with an orders-of-magnitude increase in background charcoal accumulation rates (CHAR) and peak magnitude, coupled with the proximal presence of two locally sourced stone points, suggests that New Island is the earliest known evidence for a human presence in the Falkland Islands. These results support the hypothesis that humans were present in the Falklands prior to European arrival. While this study does not provide direct evidence of whether humans brought the warrah to the Falklands, the possibility of prehistoric human introduction of the canid to the Falklands cannot be ruled out. The paleoecological and archaeological record of the Falklands indicates that, at a minimum, humans have had an impact on this biodiversity hotspot for much longer than previously believed.

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