Project 1605

INQUA Project: Mapping pre-Columbian land use in Amazonia

Leaders

Umberto Lombardo, CaSEs group, Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Ramon Trias Fargas 25-27, Mercè Rodoreda, Barcelona Spain. Email

Project Aim

To bring together archaeologists, geographers and paleoecologists working in the Amazon basin in order to produce the first land use maps of pre-Columbian Amazonia.

The reconstruction of pre-Columbian land use patterns in Amazonia is a prerequisite in order to assess the possible influence that pre-contact deforestation and post-contact re-forestation had on global climate. To what extent pre-Columbians modified Amazonia’s “pristine” ecosystems is one of the most controversial topics in South American paleoecology and archaeology. While some authors argue that pre-Columbians occupied only small areas of Amazonia and that their impact was minimal and localized, others suggest that the pre-Columbians modified the landscape on a wide scale, with long lasting legacies in terms of forest biodiversity and the creation of anthropogenic soils. This debate is polarized also in terms of the discipline involved, with mostly paleoecologists supporting the “localized disturbance” scenario and mostly archaeologists and anthropologists supporting the “widespread disturbance” scenario. Assessing to what extent pre-Columbians deforested Amazonia is key in order to understand how anthropogenic land cover change influenced climate in the past. This project aims to bring together an international group of Amazonists, Senior and Young Researchers from different disciplines, including archaeologists, historians, geographers and paleoecologists, in order to develop a common methodology to assess and map how the land was used in Amazonia 6K, 4K, 2K years BP and 1000, 1500 and 1850 AD.

Our goals include:

  1. The creation of an open access, web-based repository of the data and metadata associated to the currently documented Amazonian archaeological sites
  2. The production of pre-Columbian land-use maps of Amazonia for the periods 6K, 4K, 2K years BP and 1000, 1500 and 1850 AD.
  3. The consolidation of a an international and multidisciplinary community of researchers committed to the continuous update of the database of Amazonian archaeological sites, the improvement of the pre-Columbian land-use maps and the scaling up of the mapping project to the whole of Latin America

Amazon Field

Pre-Columbian raised fields in the Bolivian Amazon. Raised fields, known locally as camellones, are pre-Columbian agricultural surfaces. By elevating a part of the landscape, pre-Columbians improved the local drainage and protected the crops from the floods. The area shown in the picture is now covered by forest, suggesting that pre-Columbians cleared the forest in order to build the fields. The forest grew back after the fields were abandoned, following the arrival of the Spaniards.