Elizabeth Leclerc

Research Graduate Student

Office Location: 232C South Stevens, University of Maine, Orono, Maine 04469

Faculty Advisor:  Dr. Daniel Sandweiss

Biographical Statement:

My research interests mainly center on human interactions with their environments and cultural responses to climate and environmental change, past and present. In particular I am interested in learning how people became adapted to particular climates and landscapes, how they dealt with change, and how we can apply that knowledge to help communities better manage changes happening around them today. I am involved in several research projects related to these themes:

El Niño Resilience in Peru’s North Coast. My dissertation project explores the long-term adaptation of Peru’s coastal peoples to El Niño, a recurring climate phenomenon that among other impacts can produce intense rainfall in what is otherwise a desert environment, with sometimes disastrous consequences. Over the course of thousands of years of living with and experiencing El Niño events, these societies developed practices and technologies that helped to limit El Niño’s impacts and to take advantage of the opportunities it created. Yet eye-witness testimonies of a strong El Niño event in AD 1578, less than 50 years after Spain began colonizing Peru, describe a catastrophic event that destroyed entire towns and contributed to the deaths of thousands of indigenous Peruvians. I am investigating the effects of Spanish colonization on community resilience to El Niño in this region, combining the archaeological record with paleoenvironmental and paleoclimate data as well as eye-witness testimonies and other historical records.

Environmental Change at Pozuelo, South Coast Peru. I am working with colleagues at the University of Maine, Clarkson University, and the University of South Florida to reconstruct the paleoenvironment at the site of Pozuelo on Peru’s South Coast. Archaeological excavations of the mound show a complex cultural history with multiple building episodes, but the geological layers below the mound are just as interesting, showing evidence of shifting wetlands, invasions of sand, and even a strong earthquake. We’re continuing to investigate faults around this site to understand how tectonic activity influenced the character of the landscape, especially the formation of wetlands that were likely important resources for past inhabitants.

Water Availability in the Peruvian Andes ca. 5000 BP. My master’s research explored the connections between climate and water in the Andes around 5000 years ago. In the desert of Peru’s coast, rivers sourced from the mountains are critical for farming and for daily life. I examined existing studies of paleoclimate in the Andean highlands and combined this information with data on geology, soils, and topography to model how river flow in the Supe basin may have been different from today. I then compared this with archaeological settlement patterns to begin to understand how climate-related changes in river flow might have affected people living and farming at the coast.


Educational and Professional Background

Elizabeth Leclerc graduated from the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs in 2008 with a B.A. in Anthropology and a minor in Geography and Environmental Studies. Elizabeth came to UMaine in 2019 after spending a decade working in cultural resources management, which is focused on the identification, evaluation, and management of archaeological sites, historical sites, and other culturally significant places and materials. Elizabeth completed her M.S. in Quaternary and Climate Studies in 2022 and is now pursuing an Interdisciplinary Ph.D.