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Climate Change And The Migration Of A Pastoralist People C.3500 Cal. Years BP Inferred From Palaeofire And Lipid Biomarker Records In The Montane Western Ghats, India

Sarath Pullyottum Kavil, Prabhakaran Ramya Bala, Pankaj Kumar, Devanita Ghosh, Raman Sukumar

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AbstractHuman migration in response to climate change during the Holocene has been recorded in many regions of the world. The Todas are a pastoralist people who are believed to have colonized the higher elevations (>2000 m asl) of the Nilgiris in the Western Ghats, India, not earlier than about 2000 cal. yr BP. Vegetation shifts in response to changing climate in tropical montane forest-grassland mosaic of the Ghats have been well documented using stable carbon isotopes and pollen profiles; however, there have been no corresponding investigations of human presence and activity at the highest elevations. We used a number of other proxies to infer the human ecology of this montane region. Radiocarbon dated (~22,000 cal. BP to the present) peat samples from the Sandynallah basin (2200m asl, Nilgiri hills, Tamil Nadu State) were used to reconstruct fire history, animal abundance, and human presence since the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM). While the macro-charcoal record indicates fires at the LGM, macro- and micro-charcoal counts indicate intense fire at ~3500 cal. yr BP, coprophilous fungal spores indicate a large population of herbivorous mammals, and steroid biomarkers indicate human faecal remains for the first time. This period is also characterized by dry arid conditions and dominant grassy vegetation as inferred from n-alkane signatures. We thus infer that a pastoralist people, most likely the Todas, migrated to the highest elevations of the Western Ghats along with their buffalo herds in response to prolonged or abrupt climate change in peninsular India, about 3500 cal. yr BP or at least 1500 years prior to what historical accounts assume.