Pre-Columbian Amazon-Scale Transformations

The protection of rainforests and the development of sustainable land-use practices in the humid tropics are of global significance because these forests represent a major reservoir of biodiversity and are of crucial importance for the regulation of Earth’s climate. A sound understanding of the historical role of humans in shaping Amazonian landscapes and to what extent Amazonian forests were resilient to historical disturbance is critical to make informed policy decisions on sustainable Amazonian futures. However, the nature and scale of pre-Columbian land use and its modern legacy on Amazonian landscapes are among the most debated topics in New World archaeology, paleoecology and conservation. In this presentation, I argue that we will only be able to address this crucial question if we employ a truly interdisciplinary approach integrating archaeology, palaeoecology, forest science, and remote sensing. I illustrate this approach with three case studies across the Amazonian lowlands including the Monumental Mound Region in the Llanos de Moxos, the ‘Geoglyphs’ of Acre, and the raised field agricultural landscapes of French Guiana. To finalize, I will show the work in progress from our current PAST project across other regions of Amazonia.

José Iriarte is an archaeologist and palaeoethnobotanist whose principal research interests are the investigation of coupled human environment systems in the Neotropics and subtropics of Latin America, plant domestication and the development of agricultural landscapes, and the emergence of complex societies in the Americas.

He currently directs the ERC funded project Pre-Columbian Amazon Scale-Transformations (2014-2018) , the Je Landscapes of southern Brazil: Ecology, Power and History in a transitional landscapes during the Holocene project funded by AHRC-FAPESP (2014-2017), The origins of plant domestication in the upper Madeira River basin in lowland South America (NERC-2015-2016) and collaborates with Gill Jullef on the UKIERI project Climate and Culture: Environmental contextualisation of the development of human society in Western and Central India (2015-2016).