ArticlePDF Available

Paradigms in paradise: Revising standard Amazonian prehistory

Authors:
... Inferring pre-Columbian biodiversity and agrodiversity in Amazônia is more difficult but possible (e.g. Mora et al., 1991;Piperno and Pearsall, 1998;Stahl, 2002). As authors of this volume have shown, soil biota and beneficial biological processes are enhanced in ADE and the diversity of soil organisms should be included in calculations of ADE biodiversity. ...
... Recent general summaries of Amazonian prehistory and history includeMyers (1992),Neves et al. (2003),Neves (1999),Carneiro (1996),McEwan et al. (2001), Oliver (2001,Stahl (2002),Denevan (2001),Whitehead (1996), andViveiros de Castro (1996). ...
... While the exhibition illustrates this dispute [i.e., Betty Meggers' Standard Paradigm vs. Donald W. Lathrap and Anna C. Roosevelt's revised models; see Stahl 2002] in broad form, the accompanying catalogue . . . goes much further. ...
Article
This monograph is a biography of Colin McEwan (1951–2009). It reflects on his substantial contributions to the archaeology and anthropology of Latin America. It shows how he came to be the consummate scholar he was and how his life experiences and education shaped his persona and ultimately forged The Complete Americanist from Scotland that he became. His hunger for knowledge and understanding of the Americas, past and present, led McEwan to explore and conduct research in diverse Latin American localities, from the frigid landscape of Tierra del Fuego, to the humid tropical rainforests of Colombia, from the islands on the Pacific coast of Ecuador, to the mountains of the Peruvian Andes, and beyond in Central America, Mesoamerica, and the Caribbean. As curator and head of the Americas section in the Department of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas of the British Museum (1993–2012), he skillfully introduced a broad international public to the richness and diversity of ancient Latin American civilizations through his spectacular and well-researched exhibitions As director of Pre-Columbian Studies at Dumbarton Oaks (2012–2019), he developed a research project entitled Art from Central America and Colombia (2014–2017), consisting of intense international workshops to contextualize, problematize, and shed new light on the Robert W. Bliss collections. This begat (in 2018) another ambitious project titled Waves of Influence–Revisiting Costal Connections between Northwest South America and Mesoamerica. McEwan was driven by a deep need to share his knowledge of Pre-Columbian America with everyone, from indigenous groups and the general public, to research fellows, students, and academic specialists. His many publications have left their mark and are enumerated in the bibliography incorporated into this monograph. This biography captures not just Colin McEwan as the central subject, but also a generation of diverse actors, encapsulating an era in the history of anthropology and archaeology.
... Archaeologists working up and down the eastern edge of the cordillera have chipped away at these myths, illustrating the diversity of montaña archaeology and socio-cultural formations (Church 1996;Narváez Vargas 2013;Schjellerup 1997;Wilkinson 2013). In parallel, research in the lowland Amazon has demonstrated that that region was far more populated in Precolumbian times than once presumed (Arroyo-Kalin 2010; Clement et al. 2015;Heckenberger et al. 2008;Heckenberger 2005;Levis et al. 2017;Neves et al. 2003;Stahl 2002) and that some innovations and cultural traditions later shared across extensive areas of the Andes may have arisen in Amazonia (Valdez 2008;Valdez 2007;Clasby 2014). Together, these developments have reframed the importance of the eastern slopes to continental archaeology and seeded the development of a robust regional research community. ...
Article
Full-text available
We report the results of drone lidar survey at a high-elevation archaeological site in the Chachapoyas region of Peruvian Amazonia. Unlike traditional airborne remote sensing, drone lidar produces very high-density measurements at a wide range of scan angles by operating at low altitudes and slow flight speeds. These measurements can resolve near vertical surfaces and novel dimensions of variability in architectural datasets. We show in a case study at Kuelap that the number of detected structures almost exactly matches the number reported from previous ground level surveys, and we use these data to quantify the relative circularity and size frequency distribution of architectural structures. We demonstrate variability in domestic architecture that was obscured in previous models produced using low-resolution remote sensing. Spatial analysis of these attributes produces new hypotheses about the site’s construction history and social organization.
... Accounts describing these soils date back to the late 1870s, but research projects dedicated to the study of ADE have only begun in recent decades. In contradiction of the prevailing notion that Amazonian terra firme (upland) soils inhibited the development of complex societies, ADE demonstrates that past human populations had altered the environment in ways that rendered regional soils more suitable for agricultural production and consequently, human habitation (Denevan 2001: 124-5;Heckenberger et al. 1999;Heckenberger et al. 2007;Stahl 2002;Woods and McCann 1999;cf. Meggers 1996). ...
... They have acquired singular importance in Amazonian scholarship because their presence alongside the main rivers supports sixteenth-century A D accounts of sedentary, demographically dense, and organizationally complex societies (Arroyo-Kalin, 2010;Denevan, 1996;Heckenberger et al., 1999;Kern et al., 2004;McMichael et al., 2014;Myers et al., 2003;Schmidt et Smith, 1980). Consequently, they touch on long-standing discussions about Amazonia's carrying capacity and its ability to sustain large populations against presumed inherent limitations of the soil mantle for agricultural intensification (Smith, 1980;Stahl, 2002). Their legacy value is manifest: terras pretas are prized to this day by Amazonian farmers (Fig. 2d) because they achieve higher yields of staple lowland cultivars such as Manihot esculenta, assist the growth of acid-intolerant crops such as Zea mays, and concentrate a high diversity of edible/useful fruit trees (Arroyo-Kalin, 2010;Balée, 1989;Clement et al., 2003;Fraser et al., 2011;German, 2003;. ...
Chapter
Full-text available
How do human and landscape histories reciprocally affect each other? Can we distinguish between deliberate and unintended anthropic transformations of the landscape? This chapter summarizes evidence from pre-Columbian Amazonia in order to discuss the relation between three dimensions of anthropic landscape transformations: landscaping, landscape legacies, and landesque capital. Conflation between these three categories can lead to theoretical road closures and certainly risks oversimplifying both causality and consequence when anthropic landscape modifications are considered. On the other hand, paying attention to their differences defines a rich field of research in which historical ecology, earth-scientific thinking, and human niche construction theory converge.
... In the last couple of decades, interpretations of the prehistory of Amazonia have changed drastically (Heckenberger & Neves 2009;Stahl 2002). The vast complexity and diversity of the cultures of the tropical lowlands are beginning to be documented and understood. ...
Article
Interpretations of the Amazonia prehistory have changed significantly in the last few decades, as the complexity and diversity of the Amazonian cultures are beginning to be documented and understood. Earthworking, a long-term conscious anthropogenic landscape alteration, was a widespread phenomenon throughout the South American tropical lowlands. A variety of earthworks has been documented in the Southwest Amazon, including ditches and embankments of different shapes and sizes, roads, extensive raised fields, canals, causeways, and artificial wetlands linked to adjacent mounds and forest island settlement sites. A field survey and test excavations were undertaken in the region of Riberalta, in the Bolivian Amazon. The purpose of these investigations was to study the distribution and characteristics of the pre-Columbian occupation in the region. We found different types of sites, some without visible earthworks, indicating fairly dense occupation on river bluffs and terra firme, but lacking long permanence in the same location. The earthwork tradition prevailed in the Riberalta region from at least 100 B.C. until the period of European contact. The function of the less-complex earthworks may have been to enclose the occupation areas, and in some cases, to serve as canals. Compared to the variable layout of the sites, the ceramic assemblages of the region are relatively homogeneous. A central objective for future research will be to determine if the earthwork sites correlate with a single or multiple cultural traditions.Key-words: Southwest Amazonian archaeology, earthworks, ceramic traditions.
Article
Fieldwork and desk-based research in the western Amazon basin has led to an explosive growth in the state of knowledge surrounding the pre-Columbian archaeology of this region. Previously thought to be a sparsely occupied environment, archaeologists have recorded hundreds of geometric earthworks between the Purús and Acre rivers in recent years, spurring renewed interest in understanding the distribution, age, and function of these structures. A challenge has been to identify possible relationships between sites and to place them in their broader landscape setting. The precise spatial scale, relative importance of different factors, and strength of any relationships that contributed to shaping their distributions remain an open question. This paper develops and applies an explicitly spatial framework to address this problem, drawing on a rich body of recent research in Acre state (Brazil) and advanced point process modelling. The analytical approach, which is fully documented and reproducible with the accompanying code, infers the factors affecting geometric earthwork distribution at multiple spatial scales. This enables the first robust predictions of territorial integration in the region, which is discussed context of extant archaeological models. The findings support the interpretation that non-stratified societies likely occupied Acre during the late pre-Columbian period.
Article
Historical ecology is a research program that in earnest has emerged within anthropology since the turn of the millennium. This essay offers a short outline of historical ecology and, on the basis of a review of four volumes published over the last decade, discusses several key issues in the historical ecological analyses of socio-environmental relations. It is argued that historical ecology (1) emerged as a concept in different, but related, discursive contexts, (2) coalesced in North American anthropology and anthropological archaeology, and (3) subsequently cross-fertilized and diversified in new academic milieus successfully addressing previously unconsidered research questions in novel ways.
Chapter
Our intention in creating the HSAA was to bring together in a single collection current articles describing the people and cultures of the aboriginal South American past. There were many reasons for having undertaken such a project, but certainly our primary motivations involved the fact that as archaeological area studies increase, the practitioners and their discourses become more knowledgeable and specialized, and also more involuted, with fewer and fewer relationships among scholars in neighboring places. Eventually, continental issues and common goals recede into the background, replaced by concerns as well as knowledge defined in local, regional and national theaters. With few exceptions archaeologists are no longer South Americanists, but Amazonianists, Caribbeanists, Central Andeanists, etc. Many pre-historians, and especially the residents of modern South American nations, have become even more spatially specialized, bounded by the arbitrary frontiers of modern states – the archaeology of Peru, or Argentina, or Colombia, etc. Of course, modern national boundaries have nothing to do with prehistoric cultures and their spheres of interaction, but they have everything to do with the current practice of archaeology, from institutional control of archaeological patrimony to professional training and circles of colleagues, to journals, associations, and languages of communication. Furthermore, more and more contemporary archaeology is linked to identity, that is, almost always, presently defined as national identity, or regional or community identity. Rarely does the framework involve a more international Native American identity, or global humanist identity. Surely, our new century will see this change, as enlightenment ideology of national sovereignty is eclipsed by international organizations such as the Mercosur in the South American southern cone and the European Union, to say nothing of postmodern globalism. In the meantime, we need grander, continental perspectives on the past. Necessarily, the HSAA expresses the area foci of our era, but it seeks to promote knowledge of a whole, stimulating dialogue and collaboration among the diverse assemblage of pre-historians and other readers interested in the South American continent. By bringing together this set of integrative summaries and analytical discussions – some from traditional, but many from less conventional perspectives – we hope to encourage a more inclusive intellectual gaze, embracing the continent, among South American archaeologists as well as the broader community of scholars, students, and lay readers who enjoy archaeological knowledge. Beyond the increased depth of knowledge area specialists acquire when they refine their understandings of neighboring cultures, the teaching of South American archaeology may benefit from more continental perspectives, as well as the new instructional resource that the HSAA represents for comparative scholarship, presenting current statements as well as extensive bibliographies that should promote cultural comparisons and generalization, both among the prehistoric cultures of South America and between South American and other societies of the ancient world.
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any references for this publication.