Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Amazon was not all manufactured landscape, scientist says

Date:
June 14, 2012
Source:
Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute
Summary:
Population estimates for the Amazon basin just before Europeans arrived range from 2 to 10 million people. A new reconstruction of Amazonian prehistory suggests that large areas of western Amazonia were sparsely inhabited. This clashes with the belief that most of Amazonia, including forests far removed from major rivers, was heavily occupied and modified.

New evidence challenges the idea that the Amazon basin was densely inhabited before European arrival.
Credit: Rhett A. Butler / mongabay.com

Population estimates for the Amazon basin just before Europeans arrived range from 2 to 10 million people. The newly reported reconstruction of Amazonian prehistory by Smithsonian scientist Dolores R. Piperno and colleagues suggests that large areas of western Amazonia were sparsely inhabited. This clashes with the belief that most of Amazonia, including forests far removed from major rivers, was heavily occupied and modified.

Related Articles


The team's research is published in the June 15 issue of Science.

"Drawing on questionable assumptions, some scholars argue that modern Amazonian biodiversity is more a result of widespread, intensive prehistoric human occupation of the forests than of natural evolutionary and ecological processes," said co-author Piperno, senior scientist at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History and Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. "Climatologists who accept the manufactured landscapes idea may incorporate wholesale prehistoric Amazonian deforestation, widespread fires and carbon emissions into their models of what caused past shifts in atmospheric carbon dioxide and methane levels. But we need much more evidence from Amazonia before anything like that can be assumed."

This report paints a very different picture of the past. Crystal McMichael of the Florida Institute of Technology, first author of the paper, collected 247 soil samples from 55 sites across the Peruvian and Brazilian Amazon, including little-studied interfluvial forests, distant from major water courses. A lack of charcoal in the samples told the authors that fires, almost always caused by humans in the humid tropics, were few and of low intensity and did not result in much structural damage to the forests. Fragments of silica left behind when vegetation decays, called phytoliths, indicated that crop species and plants typical of human disturbance were scarce. Forms of intensive forest management such as groves of palm trees were not indicated by the phytolith records either.

Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon in 2011 was the lowest since annual record keeping began in the late 1980s and has fallen nearly 80 percent since 2004. Environmentalists fear that changes to the country's Forest Code, which mandates how much forest a landowner is required to maintain, could reverse progress in reducing deforestation, but the global consequences of such a policy remain unclear.

"Planners may assume that Amazonian forests were resilient in the face of heavy prehistoric human modification," said Piperno. "These views based on few empirical data are gaining currency in scholarly circles and the popular media. Hopefully, our data will help to place these questions into a more rigorous empirical context."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. C. H. McMichael, D. R. Piperno, M. B. Bush, M. R. Silman, A. R. Zimmerman, M. F. Raczka, and L. C. Lobato. Sparse Pre-Columbian Human Habitation in Western Amazonia. Science, 15 June 2012: 1429-1431 DOI: 10.1126/science.1219982

Cite This Page:

Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. "Amazon was not all manufactured landscape, scientist says." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 14 June 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/06/120614142846.htm>.
Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. (2012, June 14). Amazon was not all manufactured landscape, scientist says. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 25, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/06/120614142846.htm
Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. "Amazon was not all manufactured landscape, scientist says." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/06/120614142846.htm (accessed October 25, 2014).

Share This



More Fossils & Ruins News

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Deep Sea 'mushroom' Could Be Early Branch on Tree of Life

Deep Sea 'mushroom' Could Be Early Branch on Tree of Life

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Oct. 24, 2014) — Miniature deep sea animals discovered off the Australian coast almost three decades ago are puzzling scientists, who say the organisms have proved impossible to categorise. Academics at the Natural History of Denmark have appealed to the world scientific community for help, saying that further information on Dendrogramma enigmatica and Dendrogramma discoides could answer key evolutionary questions. Jim Drury has more. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Fossil Treasures at Risk in Morocco Desert Town

Fossil Treasures at Risk in Morocco Desert Town

AFP (Oct. 23, 2014) — Hundreds of archeological jewels in and around the town of 30,000 people prompt geologists and archeologists to call the Erfoud area "the largest open air fossil museum in the world". Duration: 02:17 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Oldest Bone Ever Sequenced Shows Human/Neanderthal Mating

Oldest Bone Ever Sequenced Shows Human/Neanderthal Mating

Newsy (Oct. 23, 2014) — A 45,000-year-old thighbone is showing when humans and neanderthals may have first interbred and revealing details about our origins. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Weird-Looking Dinosaur Solves 50-Year-Old Mystery

Weird-Looking Dinosaur Solves 50-Year-Old Mystery

Newsy (Oct. 23, 2014) — You've probably seen some weird-looking dinosaurs, but have you ever seen one this weird? It's worth a look. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:

More Coverage


Scientists Reconstruct Pre-Columbian Human Effects on the Amazon Basin

June 18, 2012 — Small, shifting human populations existed in the Amazon before the arrival of Europeans, with little long-term effect on the forest. The finding overturns the idea the Amazon was a cultural parkland ... read more

Strange & Offbeat Stories

 

Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins