We present a palaeoecological investigation of pre-Columbian land use in the savannah “forest island” landscape of north-east Bolivian Amazonia. A 5700 year sediment core from La Luna Lake, located adjacent to the La Luna forest island site, was analysed for fossil pollen and charcoal. We aimed to determine the palaeoenvironmental context of pre-Columbian occupation on the site and assess the environmental impact of land use in the forest island region. Evidence for anthropogenic burning and Zea mays L. cultivation began ~2000 cal a BP, at a time when the island was covered by savannah, under drier-than-present climatic conditions. After ~1240 cal a BP burning declined and afforestation occurred. We show that construction of the ring ditch, which encircles the island, did not involve substantial deforestation. Previous estimates of pre-Columbian population size in this region, based upon labour required for forest clearance, should therefore be reconsidered. Despite the high density of economically useful plants, such as Theobroma cacao, in the modern forest, no direct pollen evidence for agroforestry was found. However, human occupation is shown to pre-date and span forest expansion on this site, suggesting that here, and in the wider forest island region, there is no truly pre-anthropogenic ‘pristine’ forest.