15 February 2017

Evidence of agroforestry in the ancient Amazon

Football field sized patterns of deep ditches dot the landscape of northwestern Brazil. The discovery of these huge earthworks, which date back almost 2,000 years, has triggered intense debate regarding their origins among archaeologists and ecologists...

It wasn't until the late 1970's that deforestation first revealed the geoglyphs hiding under upland rainforest. Covering more than 5,000 sq. miles in the Brazilian state of Acre, more than 450 large-scale earthworks...

A relatively heavy charcoal layer suggests that the new residents cleared the bamboo forest with fire, letting the fast-growing palm trees spring up to fill the space left behind. Over the long term, one would expect the palms to be overtaken by slower-growing plants, but that’s not what the team found.

Instead palms flourished for three thousand years, likely encouraged by the human newcomers, who could use them for food and building material. Dr. Watling suspects they engaged in practices including planting seeds, transplanting saplings, and weeding out undesirable plant species, as well as light burning and farming. She calls these techniques agroforestry: “[maintaining] the forest but [changing] its species composition to make it a more livable place.”
Much more discussion at the Christian Science Monitor.   See also the Wikipedia page on terra preta and my 2012 post 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus.

Photo credit: Jenny Watling/Caption.


  1. I'm looking up the distribution map for bamboo. Did not know it was naturally that widespread.

  2. Us from so called advanced human societies need to preserve what remain of ancient un-western type peoples - we need their skills and understanding even though it may not be easily understood as we rely on the modern systems of speech & language to exchange ideas and understanding, rather than direct personal experience as must have been the ways of ancient communities before grammatical language was established.

  3. After a trip to Florida, where palms had been removed and the trunks stacked in pile, I tried to find out if palm logs were actually good for building. If they are, wouldn't you see old palm log houses around Tampa, for instance? I couldn't find much info, but I suspect they rot easily, so couldn't be used for building. Anyone know?

  4. now the people who are cutting the you know what out of the amazon rainforest get to say: 'hey, we are only bringing back the area to what it was 2000 years ago.'. :-(


  5. It seems more and more like ancient peoples were more intelligent than we usually give them credit for.


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