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20.9.03

The pristine myth

Amazon Was Settled Before Columbus' Time

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.

Support had been growing among archaeologists for the idea that parts of pre-Columbian Amazonia had sophisticated settlements, but hard evidence was lacking.

Now Michael Heckenberger, of the University of Florida in Gainesville, and his colleagues have excavated and mapped 19 villages, roads, trenches, bridges, agriculture, open parklands and working forests in the Upper Xingu region of central Brazil. "The folks who lived there were clearly not simple," says Heckenberger.

... Alhough 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.

-- via Cronaca


This doesn't particularly surprise me, since Bill Denevan and Claude Levi-Strauss have been saying similar things for years. The use of GIS to establish a landscape pattern for this civilization is quite interesting. But what really struck me was the comment about the people deliberately maintaining pristine patches. It's so similar to modern environmentalism (I think National Parks would be a better analogy than Central Park) that I'm a little suspicious of how much it's a projection of our modern attitudes and practices onto this other civilization.

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