Early colonization of the Azores Archipelago

PROCEEDINGS OF THE NATIONAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCES—A study examines factors that led to colonization of the Azores. Humans have altered much of Earth’s landscape over time. Remote islands may provide insight into how landscapes evolved in response to the impacts of early settlers. However, limited historical records have hampered understanding of how and when such landscapes were colonized. Pedro Raposeiro and colleagues analyzed and dated fecal biomarkers and coprophilous fungal spores in sediment cores collected from lakes on five islands that are part of the Azores Archipelago. The authors also accounted for climate conditions through time. Island occupation began approximately between 700 and 850 CE, around seven centuries earlier than prior research suggests. Anthropogenic pressure on aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems increased gradually through activities such as logging, livestock introduction, and slash-and-burn agriculture and eventually resulted in irreversible alterations. Colonization occurred simultaneously with anomalous northeasterly winds and warming Northern Hemisphere temperatures, which may have repressed exploration from southern Europe but benefited Norse explorers from the northeast Atlantic. The findings suggest that the Azores Archipelago was not pristine when Portuguese settlers first arrived, and that the Norse may have been the first settlers to colonize the region, according to the authors.


Landscape view of Pico (foreground) and Faial (background) Islands. Santiago Giralt.



*“Climate change facilitated the early colonization of the Azores Archipelago during medieval times,” by Pedro M. Raposeiro et al., Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 4-Oct-2021. https://www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.2108236118

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