Crumb Trail
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Saturday, September 20, 2003

Amazon was settled before Columbus' time: Excavations and maps confirm forest housed advanced society.

"The Amazon was densely populated before Christopher Columbus' arrival in the New World, confirms new evidence unearthed in Brazil1. The finds lay to rest the notion that the region was pristine forest when the explorer landed in 1492."


The area's indigenous people are still around today, but in much smaller numbers - one reason for the misconceptions about their past. "Cultural anthropologists were extrapolating backwards," explains archaeologist Jim Petersen of the University of Vermont in Burlington. "Heckenberger's work helps us understand, virtually for the first time, that there was a higher degree of cultural complexity than today."


Although there was probably some untouched forest in the region, Heckenberger reckons that most was managed by the inhabitants and kept for cultural and symbolic, rather than economic, reasons. "It was probably very important to them just as Central Park is important to New Yorkers," he says.

It's good to have the archeological evidence of these pre-Colombian civilizations in the Americas and dispel the corrosive idea of depeopled 'pristine wilderness'. Perhaps we can now make better progress in establishing appropriate systems of management for tropical ecosystems that are not anti-humanist. See Ethnoecology for a Conservation Ecology issue that focuses on the integration of anthropology and ecosystem sciences.

posted by back40 | 9/20/2003 09:06:00 PM


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