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First posted at phys.org

by  Autonomous University of Barcelona

Diet of pre-Columbian societies in the Brazilian Amazon reconstructed
Human burial with incised ceramic at the archaeological site of Bacanga at Sao Luas Island. Credit: André Colonese

An international study led by the Institute of Environmental Science and Technology (ICTA-UAB) and the Department of Prehistory at the UAB has reconstructed the diets of pre-Columbian groups on the Amazon coast of Brazil, showing that tropical agroforestry was regionally variable.

During the past few decades, there has been an increased interest in the origin and evolution of pre-Columbian economies in the Amazon. However, the paucity of human remains from this period has limited our understanding of the contribution of plants, terrestrial animals and fish to individual diets and, therefore, their role in supporting population growth and cultural changes in this region before European contact.

This new study, published in Scientific Reports, used stable isotopic analysis and Bayesian Mixing Models to reconstruct the diets of human individuals living along the Brazilian Amazon coast between 1,000 and 1,800 years ago.

They found that despite the proximity to marine resources and the evidence of fishing, diets were based mainly on terrestrial plants and animals. Land mammals and plants were the main sources of caloric intake. Land animals were also the main source of dietary protein, compared to fish.

Among the taxonomically identified animals, they found rodents such as paca, cavia or cutia, a brocket deer and catfish. In the late Holocene a large variety of wild and cultivated plants such as cassava, corn, squash, among others, were consumed.

Diet of pre-Columbian societies in the Brazilian Amazon reconstructed
The archaeological site of Bacanga at Sao Luas Island. Credit: André Colonese

“The results call into question the widespread assumption that fish was the main economic component and the largest source of protein among pre-Columbian populations living in proximity to aquatic environments in lowland Amazonia,” says Colonese. He adds that the results indicate these populations dedicated considerable efforts to hunting, forest management and plant cultivation.

“Our study provides unprecedented quantitative information on the extent to which distinct food categories from agroforestry systems fulfilled the caloric and protein requirements of populations in the pre-Columbian Amazon, and corroborates the growing consensus that these diversified subsistence economies fuelled cultural, demographic and environmental transformations in the eastern Amazon basin during the Late Holocene.”

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Credit Dr Edmar Almeida de Oliveira

Exeter.ac.uk

Innovation by ancient farmers to improve soil fertility continues to have an impact on the biodiversity of the Amazon, a major new study shows.

Early inhabitants fertilized the soil with charcoal from fire remains and food waste. Areas with this “dark earth” have a different set of species than the surrounding landscape, contributing to a more diverse ecosystem with a richer collection of plant species, researchers from the State University of Mato Grosso in Brazil and the University of Exeter have found.

The legacy of this land management thousands of years ago means there are thousands of these patches of dark earth dotted around the region, most around the size of a small field. This is the first study to measure the difference in vegetation in dark and non-dark earth areas in mature forests across a region spanning a thousand kilometers.

The team of ecologists and archaeologists studied abandoned areas along the main stem of the Amazon River near Tapajós and in the headwaters of the Xingu River Basin in southern Amazonia.

Lead author Dr Edmar Almeida de Oliveira  said: “This is an area where dark earth lush forests grow, with colossal trees of different species from the surrounding forest, with more edible fruit trees, such as taperebá and jatobá.”

The number of indigenous communities living in the Amazon collapsed following European colonization of the region, meaning many dark earth areas were abandoned.

The study, published in the journal Global Ecology and Biogeography, reveals for the first time the extent to which pre-Columbian Amerindians influenced the current structure and diversity of the Amazon forest of the areas they once farmed.

Researchers sampled around 4,000 trees in southern and eastern Amazonia. Areas with dark earth had a significantly higher pH and more nutrients that improved soil fertility. Pottery shards and other artefacts were also found in the rich dark soils.

Professor Ben Hur Marimon Junior, from the State University of Mato Grosso, said: “Pre-Columbian indigenous people, who fertilized the poor soils of the Amazon for at least 5,000 years, have left an impressive legacy, creating the dark earth, or Terras Pretas de Índio

Professor José Iriarte, an archaeologist from the University of Exeter, said: “By creating dark earth early inhabitants of the Amazon were able to successfully cultivate the soil for thousands of years in an agroforestry system

“We think ancient communities used dark earth areas to grow crops to eat, and adjacent forests without dark earth for agroforestry.”

Dr Ted Feldpausch, from the University of Exeter, who co-authored the study with Dr Luiz Aragão from the National Institute for Space Research (INPE) in Brazil, said: “After being abandoned for hundreds of years, we still find a fingerprint of the ancient land-use in the forests today as a legacy of the pre-Colombian Amazonian population estimated in millions of inhabitants.

“We are currently expanding this research across the whole Amazon Basin under a project funded by the UK Natural Environment Research Council(NERC) to evaluate whether historical fire also affected the forest areas distant from the anthropogenic dark earths”.

Many areas with dark earth are currently cultivated by local and indigenous populations, who have had great success with their food crops. But most are still hidden in the native forest, contributing to increased tree size, carbon stock and regional biodiversity. For this reason, the lush forests of the “Terra Preta de Índio” and their biological and cultural wealth in the Amazon must be preserved as a legacy for future generations, the researchers have said. Areas with dark earth are under threat due to illegal deforestation and fire.

 “Dark earth increases the richness of species, an important consideration for regional biodiversity conservation. These findings highlight the smallscale longterm legacy of preColumbian inhabitants on the soils and vegetation of Amazonia,” said co-author Prof Beatriz Marimon, from the State University of Mato Grosso.

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A network of fish ponds supported a permanent human settlement in the seasonal drylands of Bolivia more than one thousand years ago, according to a new study published May 15, 2019 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Gabriela Prestes-Carneiro of Federal University of Western Para, Brazil, and colleagues.

Source: Ancient fish ponds in the Bolivian savanna supported human settlement

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The authors believe that the Teotonio waterfall is what attracted people to this location for over 9,000 years, as it was an extremely rich fishing location and an obligatory stopping point for people traveling by boat on this stretch of the Madeira river. It was the location of a fishing village (the village of Teotonio) until 2011, when residents were forced to move inland ahead of dam construction. The dam submersed the village and the waterfall. Eduardo Neves, 2011

 

Original Article:

popular-archaeology

 

Ancient people in the region began cultivating plants and altering forests earlier than previously thought.

PLOS—The remains of domesticated crop plants at an archaeological site in southwest Amazonia supports the idea that this was an important region in the early history of crop cultivation, according to a study published July 25, 2018 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Jennifer Watling from the Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at the University of São Paulo, Brazil and colleagues.

Genetic analysis of plant species has long pointed to the lowlands of southwest Amazonia as a key region in the early history of plant domestication in the Americas, but systematic archaeological evidence to support this has been rare. The new evidence comes from recently-exposed layers of the Teotonio archaeological site, which has been described by researchers as a “microcosm of human occupation of the Upper Madeira [River]” because it preserves a nearly continuous record of human cultures going back approximately 9,000 years.

In this study, Watling and colleagues analyzed the remains of seeds, phytoliths, and other plant materials in the most ancient soils of the site as well as on artifacts used for processing food. They found some of the earliest evidence of cultivated manioc, a crop which geneticists say was domesticated here over 8,000 years ago, as well as squash, beans, and perhaps calathea, and important tree crops such as palms and Brazil nut. They also saw evidence of disturbed forest and a soil type called “Anthropogenic Dark Earths” which both result from human alteration of local environments.

These findings suggest that the people of this region transitioned from early hunter-gatherer lifestyles to cultivating crops before 6,000 years ago, much earlier than previously thought. Along with plant domestication also came the familiar human habit of landscape modification, suggesting that human impact on Amazonian forests in this region goes back many thousands of years. Altogether, these results point to the Upper Madeira as a key locality to explore the earliest days of crop domestication in the New World.

Watling notes: “This discovery at the Teotonio waterfall in Southest Amazonia is some of the oldest evidence for plant cultivation in lowland South America, confirming genetic evidence”.

*Watling J, Shock MP, Mongeló GZ, Almeida FO, Kater T, De Oliveira PE, et al. (2018) Direct archaeological evidence for Southwestern Amazonia as an early plant domestication and food production centrePLoS ONE 13(7): e0199868. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0199868

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Dr. Yoshi Maezumi,

 

Original article:

Popular-archaeology.com

UNIVERSITY OF EXETER—Ancient communities transformed the Amazon thousands of years ago, farming in a way which has had a lasting impact on the rainforest, a major new study* shows.

Farmers had a more profound effect on the supposedly “untouched” rainforest than previously thought, introducing crops to new areas, boosting the number of edible tree species and using fire to improve the nutrient content of soil, experts have found.

The study is the first detailed history of long-term human land use and fire management in this region conducted by archaeologists, paleoecologists, botanists and ecologists. It shows how early Amazon farmers used the land intensively and expanded the types of crops grown, without continuously clearing new areas of the forest for farming when soil nutrients became depleted.

The research team examined charcoal, pollen and plant remains from soil in archaeological sites and sediments from a nearby lake to trace the history of vegetation and fire in eastern Brazil. This provided evidence that maize, sweet potato, manioc and squash were farmed as early as 4,500 years ago in this part of the Amazon. Farmers increased the amount of food they grew by improving the nutrient content of the soil through burning and the addition of manure and food waste. Fish and turtles from rivers were also a key part of the diets at the time.

The findings explain why forests around current archaeological sites in the Amazon have a higher concentration of edible plants.

Dr Yoshi Maezumi, from the University of Exeter, who led the study, said: “People thousands of years ago developed a nutrient rich soil called Amazonian Dark Earths (ADEs). They farmed in a way which involved continuous enrichment and reusing of the soil, rather than expanding the amount of land they clear cut for farming. This was a much more sustainable way of farming.”

The development of ADEs allowed the expansion of maize and other crops, usually only grown near nutrient rich lake and river shores, to be farmed in other areas that generally have very poor soils. This increased the amount of food available for the growing Amazon population at the time.

Dr Maezumi said: “Ancient communities likely did clear some understory trees and weeds for farming, but they maintained a closed canopy forest, enriched in edible plants which could bring them food. This is a very different use of the land to that of today, where large areas of land in the Amazon is cleared and planted for industrial scale grain, soya bean farming and cattle grazing. We hope modern conservationists can learn lessons from indigenous land use in the Amazon to inform management decisions about how to safeguard modern forests.”

Professor Jose Iriarte, from the University of Exeter, said: “The work of early farmers in the Amazon has left an enduring legacy. The way indigenous communities managed the land thousands of years ago still shapes modern forest ecosystems. This is important to remember as modern deforestation and agricultural plantations expand across the Amazon Basin, coupled with the intensification of drought severity driven by warming global temperatures.”

*The legacy of 4,500 years of polyculture agroforestry in the eastern Amazon is published in the journal Nature Plants.

 

 

 

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Topic: it’s been 4 years!!!
For all of you who are keeping track and for you who don’t, this is the four year anniversary for ancient foods! Technicality it was yesterday September 1 st but who’s counting? I don’t seem able to reblog that first post but here is a link for any who are interested. I have been pleased with the overall response to my endeavor and hope to bring everyone more on my favorite topic for many years to come.
new world cereal- maze

Now on to today’s topic:Shell Middens in the Amazon

10,000-yr-old remains of hunter-gatherer settlements identified in ‘forest islands’

Previously unknown archeological sites in forest islands reveal human presence in the western Amazon as early as 10,000 years ago, according to research published August 28 in the open access journal PLOS ONE by Umberto Lombardo from the University of Bern, Switzerland and colleagues from other institutions.

The study focuses on a region in the Bolivian Amazon thought to be rarely occupied by pre-agricultural communities due to unfavorable environmental conditions. Hundreds of ‘forest islands’- small forested mounds of earth- are found throughout the region, their origins attributed to termites, erosion or ancient human activity. In this study, the authors report that three of these islands are shell middens, mounds of seashells left by settlers in the early Holocene period, approximately 10,400 years ago.

Samples of soil from these three mounds revealed a dense accumulation of freshwater snail shells, animal bones and charcoal forming the middens. The mounds appear to have formed in two phases: an older layer composed primarily of snail shells, and an overlying layer composed of organic matter containing pottery, bone tools and human bones. The two are separated by a thin layer rich in pieces of burnt clay and earth, and the uppermost layer of deposits was also seen to contain occasional fragments of earthenware pottery. Radiocarbon analysis of two middens indicates that humans settled in this region during the early Holocene, approximately 10,400 years ago, and shells and other artefacts built up into mounds over an approximately 6,000 year period of human use. The sites may have been abandoned as climate shifted towards wetter conditions later. Lombardo adds, “We have discovered the oldest archaeological sites in western and southern Amazonia. These sites allow us to reconstruct 10,000 years of human-environment interactions in the Bolivian Amazon.”

Cited article:
eurekalert.org
August 28, 2013

Original article:
plosone.org

20130902-104523.jpg
Figure 4. Details of recovered burnt earth, shells and bone remains from excavations at SM1.
This photo is from the original article

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20120409-124513.jpg

Topic: Ancient Amazon raised- field farming

Led by the University of Exeter, the research could provide insights into the sustainable use and conservation of these globally-important ecosystems, which are being rapidly destroyed. Pressure on the Amazonian savannas today is intense, with the land being rapidly transformed for industrial agriculture and cattle ranching.

By analysing records of pollen, charcoal and other plant remains like phytoliths spanning more than 2,000 years, the team has created the first detailed picture of land use in the Amazonian savannas in French Guiana. This gives a unique perspective on the land before and after the first Europeans arrived in 1492.

The research shows that the early inhabitants of these Amazonian savannas practiced ‘raised-field’ farming, which involved constructing small agricultural mounds with wooden tools. These raised fields provided better drainage, soil aeration and moisture retention: ideal for an environment that experiences both drought and flooding. The fields also benefited from increased fertility from the muck continually scraped from the flooded basin and deposited on the mounds. The raised-field farmers limited fires, and this helped them conserve soil nutrients and organic matter and preserve soil structure.

It has long been assumed that indigenous people used fire as a way of clearing the savannas and managing their land. However, this new research shows that this was not the case here. Instead, it reveals a sharp increase in fires with the arrival of the first Europeans, an event known as the ‘Columbian Encounter’. The study shows that this labour-intensive approach to farming in the Amazonian savannas was lost when as much as 95 per cent of the indigenous population was wiped out as a result of Old World diseases, brought by European settlers.

The results of this study are in sharp contrast with what is known about the Columbian Encounter’s impact on tropical forest, where the collapse of indigenous populations after 1492 led to decreased forest clearance for agriculture, which in turn, caused a decline in burning. This study shows that high fire incidence in these Amazonian savannas is a post-1492, rather than pre-1492, phenomenon.

Dr José Iriarte of the University of Exeter, lead author on the paper, said: “This ancient, time-tested, fire-free land use could pave the way for the modern implementation of raised-field agriculture in rural areas of Amazonia. Intensive raised-field agriculture can become an alternative to burning down tropical forest for slash and burn agriculture by reclaiming otherwise abandoned and new savannah ecosystems created by deforestation. It has the capability of helping curb carbon emissions and at the same time provide food security for the more vulnerable and poorest rural populations.”

Dr Mitchell Power of the University of Utah said: “Our results force reconsideration of the long-held view that fires were a pervasive feature of Amazonian savannas.”

Professor Doyle McKey of the University of Montpellier said: “Amazonian savannas are among the most important ecosystems on Earth, supporting a rich variety of plants and animals. They are also essential to managing climate. Whereas savannas today are often associated with frequent fire and high carbon emissions, our results show that this was not always so. With global warming, it is more important than ever before that we find a sustainable way to manage savannas. The clues to how to achieve this could be in the 2,000 years of history that we have unlocked.”

Dr Francis Mayle of the University of Edinburgh said: “We’ve got an unprecedented record of these Amazonian savannas that completely overturns previous assumptions about the way in which ancient cultures utilized these globally-important ecosystems.”

Dr Stephen Rostain of CNRS said “These raised-field systems can be as productive as the man-made black soils of the Amazon, but with the added benefit of low carbon emissions.”

Original article:
phys.org
April9, 2012

20120409-124529.jpg

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