Paleoenvironmental reconstruction combining data from diatom, pollen, macrophytic, and archaeological analyses had not been attempted previously for coastal Peru. We analyzed two radiocarbon-dated sediment cores extracted from the " sacred" Urpi Kocha Lagoon at the pre-Hispanic religious center of Pachacamac (ca. AD 350-1533), near Lima, to characterize the paleoenvironment of the site. The data reveal an environmental history characterized by alternating periods of severe drought and catastrophic flood. Recurrent pulses with distinctive sediment, diatom, pollen, and macrophytic characteristics reflecting variations in water depth, substrate, turbidity and salinity, usually contain a thick basal sandy storm deposit overlain by thin organic accumulations of peat, gyttja, and snails. The most intense of these disturbance pulses, when correlated with pollen, plant macrofossils, radiocarbon dates, and regional proxy data, provide local evidence of four major floods associated with sustained, catastrophic El Niño events, tsunamis and/or severe storms in the Andean highlands over the last 2000 years.
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