Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Scientists reconstruct pre-Columbian human effects on the Amazon Basin

Date:
June 18, 2012
Source:
National Science Foundation
Summary:
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 in pre-Columbian times with large human populations that transformed vast tracts of the landscape.

This is a sampling location, seen from atop a river bluff in the Peruvian Amazon.
Credit: Crystal McMichael

Small, shifting human populations existed in the Amazon before the arrival of Europeans, with little long-term effect on the forest.

That's the result of research led by Crystal McMichael and Mark Bush of the Florida Institute of Technology (FIT). The finding overturns the idea the Amazon was a cultural parkland in pre-Columbian times with large human populations that transformed vast tracts of the landscape.

The Amazon Basin is one of the highest biodiversity areas on Earth. Understanding how it was modified by humans in the past is important for conservation and for understanding the ecological processes in tropical rainforests.

McMichael, Bush and a team of researchers looked at how widespread human effects were in Amazonia before Europeans arrived. They published their results in this week's issue of the journal Science.

"The findings have major implications for how we understand the effect of the land-use change now occurring in Amazonia," said Alan Tessier, program director in the National Science Foundation's Division of Environmental Biology, which funded the research.

"Making the assumption that this system is resilient to deforestation, it turns out, isn't a position supported by historical evidence," Tessier said.

If the pre-Columbian Amazon was a highly altered landscape, then most of the Amazon's current biodiversity could have come from human effects.

The team retrieved 247 soil cores from 55 locations throughout the central and western Amazon, sampling sites that were likely disturbed by humans, such as river banks and other areas known from archaeological evidence to have been occupied by people.

They used markers in the cores to track the histories of fire, vegetation and human alterations of the soil.

The scientists conclude that people lived in small groups, with larger populations in the eastern Amazon--and most people lived near rivers.

They did not live in large settlements throughout the basin as was previously thought. Even sites of supposedly large settlements did not show evidence of high population densities and large-scale agriculture.

All the signs point to smaller, mobile populations before Europeans arrived. These small populations did not alter the forests substantially.

"The amazing biodiversity of the Amazon is not a by-product of past human disturbance," said McMichael. "We can't assume that these forests will be resilient to disturbance, because most of them have, at most, been lightly disturbed in the past.

"There is no parallel in western Amazonia for the scale of modern disturbance that accompanies industrial agriculture, road construction and the synergies of those disturbances with climate change."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by National Science Foundation. 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, L. C. Lobato. Sparse Pre-Columbian Human Habitation in Western Amazonia. Science, 2012; 336 (6087): 1429 DOI: 10.1126/science.1219982

Cite This Page:

National Science Foundation. "Scientists reconstruct pre-Columbian human effects on the Amazon Basin." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 18 June 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/06/120618161824.htm>.
National Science Foundation. (2012, June 18). Scientists reconstruct pre-Columbian human effects on the Amazon Basin. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 23, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/06/120618161824.htm
National Science Foundation. "Scientists reconstruct pre-Columbian human effects on the Amazon Basin." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/06/120618161824.htm (accessed October 23, 2014).

Share This



More Fossils & Ruins News

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Goofy Dinosaur Blends Barney and Jar Jar Binks

Goofy Dinosaur Blends Barney and Jar Jar Binks

AP (Oct. 22, 2014) — A collection of dinosaur bones reveal a creature that is far more weird and goofy-looking than scientists originally thought when they found just the arm bones nearly 50 years ago, according to a new report in the journal Nature. (Oct. 22) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Sunken WWII U-Boat That Fired On U.S. Convoy Found

Sunken WWII U-Boat That Fired On U.S. Convoy Found

Newsy (Oct. 22, 2014) — U-576, a long-lost German U-boat the U.S. sank in 1942, has been found just 30 miles off North Carolina's coast and near the wreckage of another ship. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Turns Out Jack The Ripper's True Identity Is Still Unknown

Turns Out Jack The Ripper's True Identity Is Still Unknown

Newsy (Oct. 20, 2014) — After testing DNA from a shawl found near one of Jack the Ripper's victims, a scientist said he'd identified the killer. New reports refute the claim. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Fish Fossil Shows First-Ever Sex Was Done Side By Side

Fish Fossil Shows First-Ever Sex Was Done Side By Side

Newsy (Oct. 19, 2014) — A 380-million-year-old fish may be the first creature to have copulative sex - and it was side by side with arms linked, like square dancers. 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


Amazon Was Not All Manufactured Landscape, Scientist Says

June 14, 2012 — 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 ... 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