The Transformation of Environment Into Landscape: The Historical Ecology of Monumental Earthwork Construction in the Bolivian Amazon

Article (PDF Available)inDiversity 2(4) · April 2010with43 Reads
DOI: 10.3390/d2040619 · Source: DOAJ
Abstract
Although the Neotropics are recognized as a region rich in biological diversity, the origin, evolution, and maintenance of this phenomenon continues to be debated. Historical ecologists and landscape archaeologists point out that the Neotropics have a long, complex human history that may have been a key factor in the creation, shaping, and management of present day biodiversity. The construction of monumental earthworks referred to as ring ditches of the Bolivian Amazon and surrounding regions in late prehistory had considerable impact on the fauna, flora, soils, and topography of forest islands. Patterned landscape features, historical documents, energetics, and historical ecology are used to understand the transformation of forest islands into anthropogenic built environments.

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Diversity 2010, 2, 618-652; doi:10.3390/d2040619
diversity
ISSN 1424-2818
www.mdpi.com/journal/diversity
Article
The Transformation of Environment into Landscape: The
Historical Ecology of Monumental Earthwork Construction in
the Bolivian Amazon
Clark L. Erickson
Department of Anthropology, University of Pennsylvania, 33rd and Spruce Streets, Philadelphia, PA
19104-6398, USA; E-Mail: cerickso@sas.upenn.edu; Tel.: 215-989-2282; Fax: 215-898-7462.
Received: 28 January 2010; in revised form: 14 April 2010 / Accepted: 15 April 2010 /
Published: 19 April 2010
Abstract: Although the Neotropics are recognized as a region rich in biological diversity,
the origin, evolution, and maintenance of this phenomenon continues to be debated.
Historical ecologists and landscape archaeologists point out that the Neotropics have a
long, complex human history that may have been a key factor in the creation, shaping, and
management of present day biodiversity. The construction of monumental earthworks
referred to as ring ditches of the Bolivian Amazon and surrounding regions in late
prehistory had considerable impact on the fauna, flora, soils, and topography of forest
islands. Patterned landscape features, historical documents, energetics, and historical
ecology are used to understand the transformation of forest islands into anthropogenic
built environments.
Keywords: historical ecology; landscape archaeology; historical contingency; engineered
landscape; forest islands; Bolivia; Amazonia
1. Introduction
In a recent article, Leigh and colleagues ask, “Why do some tropical forests have so many species
of trees?” [1]. The answer is critical to understanding how to protect and manage the remaining
biological diversity, and in some cases, to restore that diversity, in the vast tropical regions of Earth.
The authors breakdown the complex issue into a series of questions and propose that tree “species that
are now common must have spread more quickly than chance allows,” assuming that new species
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probably begin as small populations, and thus, certain niche opportunities promote the increase of
these originally rare species [2]. Agreeing with previous scholars who emphasize long-term
environmental stability and a warm and relatively low seasonality, Leigh and colleagues conclude, “…
neither disturba