The Amazon and the Anthropocene: 13,000 years of human influence in a tropical rainforest
When Humans Dominated the Earth: Archeological Perspectives on the Anthropocene
Format: Journal Article
Publication Year: 2013
Pages: 69 - 87
Source ID: shanti-sources-81511
Collection: Anthropocene and the Environmental Future
Abstract: The vast tropical rainforest in Amazonia, once presumed a virgin wilderness vulnerable to climate forcing and inimical to indigenous cultures, is now shown by prehistoric, ethnographic, and ethnohistoric data to be almost the opposite: a human habitat resilient to environment change but much influenced by thousands of years of occupation. The earliest foragers quickly penetrated the region ca. 13,000 years cal BP, leaving traces far and wide. The first villages, ca. 4000 years cal BP later, created substantial shell-middens and disturbances in nearby forest areas. After another 4000 years cal BP in many regions, people turned to shifting horticulture, cutting and burning fields, disseminating crops, and planting trees. In the last 3000 years of prehistory, networks of populous, warring chiefdoms established nucleated centers along floodplains and trade routes, creating mound complexes, defense works, fields, orchards, and refuse heaps that greatly altered topography, soils, and vegetation. Some settlements grew to urban proportions during the last 1000 years of prehistory, leaving large earth mounds of rich black cultural refuse. Their effects altered habitats widely but not destructively in terms of resources for human use. European invaders defeated the chiefdoms, decimated their populations, and pushed survivors to the peripheries. Post-colonial states continued forced migration and deculturation and instituted destructive industries, destroying valuable timberlands, bulldozing orchards, shell mounds, anthropic forests, and archeological sites, polluting waters, and causing wide erosion and savannization. These changes threaten the integrity and continuity of the Amazon cultural ecological system and linked ecosystems beyond it.