Up and Down in Moxos

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A blog about the Amazon Basin as seen from the Llanos de Moxos - Bolivia. The blog is about the human-environment interactions in the Amazon Basin during the Holocene

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  • January 17, 2014
  • 05:16 PM

“Predicting pre-Columbian anthropogenic soils in Amazonia”

by Umberto in Up and Down in Moxos

“Predicting pre-Columbian anthropogenic soils in Amazonia” is the title of a recent paper by McMichael et al. published in Proceeding of the Royal Society B. It is not open access but you can read the abstract here. In this paper McMichael et al. present a predictive model for the presence of Terra Preta in Amazonia.  The model predicts the likelihood of finding Terra Preta sites in any given spot within Amazonia.  In general, I liked the idea behind the paper. These models gi........ Read more »

McMichael CH, Palace MW, Bush MB, Braswell B, Hagen S, Neves EG, Silman MR, Tamanaha EK, & Czarnecki C. (2014) Predicting pre-Columbian anthropogenic soils in Amazonia. Proceedings. Biological sciences / The Royal Society, 281(1777), 20132475. PMID: 24403329  

Erickson, C.L. (2008) Amazonia: the historical ecology of a domesticated landscape. In: H. Silverman, W.H. Isbell (Eds.), Handbook of South American archaeology. Springer, Berlin, pp. 157-183. DOI: 10.1007/978-0-387-74907-5_11  

Neves, E.G., & Petersen, J.B. (2006) Political economy and pre-Columbian landscape transformations in Central Amazonia. In: W. Balée . info:/

  • September 3, 2013
  • 05:58 AM

The rectangular and oriented lakes in the Bolivian Amazon are not tectonic, and now what?

by Umberto in Up and Down in Moxos

Our latest paper has been published a few days ago in Geomorphology. The title is: "The origin of oriented lakes: Evidence from the Bolivian Amazon". Here goes a very short version of it.The presence of hundreds of rectangular and oriented lakes is one of the most striking characteristics of the Llanos de Moxos landscape (Fig. 1). Many different mechanisms have been proposed for their formation, including subsidence resulting from the propagation of bedrock faults through the foreland sediments,........ Read more »

  • January 7, 2013
  • 11:20 AM

The diffusion of unsuccessful innovations: the myth of raised field agriculture

by Umberto in Up and Down in Moxos

Pre-Columbian raised field agriculture is an extremely interesting topic that we have discussed in this blog before, here, here and here. We call raised fields “any prepared land involving the transfer and elevation of soil above the natural surface of the earth in order to improve cultivating conditions”  ADDIN EN.CITE Denevan19741025(Denevan and Turner, 1974)1025102517Denevan, William M.Turner, B. L.Forms, functions and associations of raised fields in the old world tropicsJournal of tro........ Read more »

Baveye, Philippe C. (2013) Comment on “Ecological engineers ahead of their time: The functioning of pre-Columbian raised-field agriculture and its potential contributions to sustainability today” by Dephine Renard et al. Ecological Engineering. info:/

  • August 24, 2012
  • 02:29 PM

How lake-like was Lake Pebas?

by Umberto in Up and Down in Moxos

What did the long-lived lake complex in (nowadays) western Amazonia look like during the Miocene?First a bit of context… The geological history of Amazonia has been profoundly influenced by the uplift of the Andes, which started during the Paleogene, about 65 to 34 million years ago (Ma). When the Andes reached the elevation of approximately 2000 meters, they caused massive rains because they stopped the movement of the clouds from east to west. This huge increase in precipitation resulted in ........ Read more »

  • June 20, 2012
  • 09:39 AM

People and environment in pre-Columbian Amazonia: two new proxies

by Umberto in Up and Down in Moxos

What was the extent of human occupation and environmental impact in the pre-Columbian Amazonia?This question has been at the center of much of the research on pre-Columbian Amazonia since Betty Meggers published her paper ‘Environmental Limitation on the Development of Culture’ (1). The reconstruction of the Amazon’s past is based on evidence obtained from the study of the present landscape, sediments and archaeological remains. These ‘evidences’ are called proxies. Pollen is a proxy........ Read more »

B. J. Meggers. (1954) Environmental Limitation on the Development of Culture. American Anthropologist. info:/

McMichael CH, Piperno DR, Bush MB, Silman MR, Zimmerman AR, Raczka MF, & Lobato LC. (2012) Sparse pre-Columbian human habitation in western Amazonia. Science (New York, N.Y.), 336(6087), 1429-31. PMID: 22700926  

Heckenberger MJ, Kuikuro A, Kuikuro UT, Russell JC, Schmidt M, Fausto C, & Franchetto B. (2003) Amazonia 1492: pristine forest or cultural parkland?. Science (New York, N.Y.), 301(5640), 1710-4. PMID: 14500979  

  • April 30, 2012
  • 10:00 AM

Effects of the expanding agriculture frontier in the Bolivian Amazon

by Umberto in Up and Down in Moxos

Last week, a paper published in Nature spurred a lot of debates on the internet about the future of agriculture and our ability to feed the 9 billion people that the world will have in 2050. One important aspect related to this debate is the availability of agricultural land. However, people do not always have a clear idea of what expanding the agriculture land means. Here an example of what is happening in one of the most biodiversily rich places of the world: the Bolivan Amazon. Let’s just ........ Read more »

  • March 14, 2012
  • 02:35 PM

A story of people and rivers in the Amazon of 5000 years ago

by Umberto in Up and Down in Moxos

This time I will tell you about a story that began in theMid-Holocene (5000 years ago) and is set in the Bolivian Amazon. More preciselyin the south-eastern part of the Llanos de Moxos seasonally flooded savannah,in what we call the Monumental Mounds Region MMR (Fig. 1).  Here, between 400 and 1400 AD, pre-Columbiansbuilt hundreds of monumental earth mounds, known locally as “lomas”. These earthmounds are planned, complex buildings made by one or more pyramids built on topof elevated pl........ Read more »

  • February 24, 2012
  • 05:15 AM

Pre-Columbian cherry picking by the New York Times

by Umberto in Up and Down in Moxos

Afew weeks ago, the NYT published an article aboutpre-Columbian Amazonia. The journalist reported the discovery of pre-Columbiangeometric ditches in the Brazilian Acre. These were actually discovered adecade ago and were already described in a book edited by Pärsinnen et al (2003)and again by Pärsinnen et al (2009) in Antiquity, who called them “geoglyphs”. Tilltoday, no one knows what those ditches were excavated for. As Pärsinnen et al.(2009) say: “The function, or functions,of t........ Read more »

  • February 20, 2012
  • 08:03 AM

The Climate War

by Umberto in Up and Down in Moxos

Climate is changing. This is like an obvious conclusion if you areold enough to remember how it was only 20 or 30 years ago. “Non c'è più la mezza stagione” (“There are no more middle seasons” which is the Italian equivalent of “Things are not what they used to be”) is one of themost used expression when travelling on the train in Italy, like a mantra used to start any conversation.Less commonly accepted among the general public is that the causeof this change towards a w........ Read more »

  • December 13, 2011
  • 09:55 AM

What is Amazonia?

by Umberto in Up and Down in Moxos

This is not a trivial question.  Researchers writing about Amazonia very rarelyprovide a  definition. This ambiguity hasimportant research implications, as often when discussing Amazonia thoseinvolved have different ideas of what is being discussed…  For example, In Meggers’ paper which Ireviewed in my previous post, she disagrees with another archaeologist’sdefinition of Amazonia. Erikson, in his article entitled “Amazonia: thehistorical ecology of a domesticated landscap........ Read more »

Eva, Hugh D., Huber, Otto, Achard, Frédéric, Balslev, Henrik, Beck, Stephan G., Behling, Hermann, Belward, Alan S., Beuchle, René,, Cleef, Antoine M., Colchester, M.... (2005) A proposal for defining the geographical boundaries of Amazonia. Office for Official Publications of the European Communities. info:/EUR 21808-EN

  • December 5, 2011
  • 09:14 AM

Review of Betty J. Meggers‘ review of the Handbook of South American Archaeology

by Umberto in Up and Down in Moxos

Betty J. Meggers has been working in Amazonian archaeologyfor more than 50 years. She has recently published a review of the Handbook ofSouth American Archaeology, which is of great relevance to all of us working onthe paleoecology of Amazonia during the Holocene. You can download her paperhere.The paper discusses 3 fundamental aspects of the SouthAmerican archaeology: i) how contemporary Amazonian archaeologists’ interpretationof the archaeological record has been biased by the abandonment of........ Read more »

Betty J. Meggers. (2011) Handbook of South American Archaeology reviewed by Betty J. Meggers. Revista de Antropología Chilena, 43(1), 147-157. info:/

  • November 29, 2011
  • 02:43 PM

Special Issue: Environmental changes and pre-Columbian human influence in the Amazon region

by Umberto in Up and Down in Moxos

The last number of Geographica Helvetica is a special issueabout Amazonia entitled “Environmental changes and pre-Columbian humaninfluence in the Amazon region”. Among the authors there are two prominentpollen specialists, Behling, H. and Mayle, F.E.; the phytogeographer Langstroth, R.; and several members (and ex members) of the paleo-geoecological group at BernUniversity, including myself. Abstracts can be accessed here.Our paper, co-authored by Canal-Beeby, E. and Veit, H., isentitled “........ Read more »

Lombardo, U., Canal-Beeby, E., & Veit, H. (2011) Eco-archaeological regions in the Bolivian Amazon. An overview of pre-Columbian earthworks linking them to their environmental settings. Geographyca Helvetica, 66(3), 173-182. info:/

  • November 3, 2011
  • 04:17 AM

The extent of human disturbance in pre-Columbian Amazonia

by Umberto in Up and Down in Moxos

Understanding the extent to which pre-Columbian peoples altered and deforested the Amazon basin is key in order to assess i) the impact that pre-Columbians had on global climate during the Holocene [Dull et al., 2010] and ii) the resilience of the Amazon rainforest to human disturbance [Bush and Silman, 2007]. The first point is essential to our understanding of the major drivers behind climate fluctuations during the Holocene, and hence to help predict future fluctuations. The second point is i........ Read more »

C. H. McMichael, M. B. Bush, D. R. Piperno, M. R. Silman, A. R. Zimmerman, & C. Anderson. (2011) Spatial and temporal scales of pre-Columbian disturbance associated with western Amazonian lakes. The Holocene. info:/10.1177/0959683611414932

  • October 19, 2011
  • 08:53 AM

About maize, manioc and agricultural production in pre-Columbian Amazonia

by Umberto in Up and Down in Moxos

A new paper from Dickau et al., recently published on-line bythe Journal of Archaeological Sciences, brings us back to one of the favouritethemes of this blog: pre-Columbian agriculture in the Amazon Basin. The work ofDickau et al. confirms the findings of Bruno (2010), also a co-author in Dickauet al., and provides more data from new sites. They have analysed botanicalremains from 2 pre-Columbian monumental mounds east of Trinidad (LomaSalvatierra and Loma Mendoza) and from another site, a ring........ Read more »

Ruth Dickau, Maria C. Bruno, José Iriarte, Heiko Prümers, Carla Jaimes Betancourt Irene Holst, & Francis E. Mayle. (2011) Diversity of cultivars and other plant resources used at habitation sites in the Llanos de Mojos, Beni, Bolivia: Evidence from macrobotanical remains, starch grains, and phytoliths. Journal of Archaeological Science. info:/10.1016/j.jas.2011.09.021

  • September 26, 2011
  • 04:55 AM

Stone axes and the Little Ice Age (LIA)

by Umberto in Up and Down in Moxos

What do stone axes have to do with the LIA ?In his famous paper entitled “The anthropogenic greenhouseera began thousands of years ago” Ruddiman [2003]put forward a fascinating idea: “CO2 oscillations of ∼10ppm in the last 1000 years are too large to be explained by external(solar-volcanic) forcing, but they can be explained by outbreaks of bubonicplague that caused historically documented farm abandonment in western Eurasia.Forest regrowth on abandoned farms sequesteredenough carbo........ Read more »

  • July 13, 2011
  • 03:39 AM

Less than 1% of Amazonia is made of Terra Preta. Is that enough?

by Umberto in Up and Down in Moxos

I’ve just read a review written by William Balée (2010) about the book ‘Amazonian Dark Earths: Origins, Properties, Management’. Balée considers that the discovery of Terra Preta is proof that people in pre-Columbian Amazonia, rather than adapting to environmental conditions, ‘created’ the environment they inhabited. This allowed the development of complex societies in the region regardless of environmental constraints (such as poor soils, floods, lack of protein...). People overcame........ Read more »

William Balée. (2010) Amazonian Dark Earths. Tipit´ı: Journal of the Society for the Anthropology of Lowland South America. info:/

  • June 18, 2011
  • 11:40 AM

Soybean industrial production is bulldozing pre-Columbian archaeological sites in the Bolivian Amazon and nobody gives a damn

by Umberto in Up and Down in Moxos

The journal Applied Geography and the journal Land Use Policy have recently published two papers, “Spatiotemporal modeling of the expansion of mechanized agriculture in the Bolivian lowland forests” and “Deforestation dynamics and policy changes in Bolivia’s post-neoliberal era” respectively, that depict a desolating panorama. The rate of deforestation under Evo Morales’ government is even higher than it was during the previous governments. Muller et al. say that “While overall dyn........ Read more »

Daniel Redo, Andrew C. Millington, & Derrick Hindery. (2011) Deforestation dynamics and policy changes in Bolivia’s post-neoliberal era. Land Use Policy. info:/10.1016/j.landusepol.2010.06.004

Robert Müller, Daniel Müller, Florian Schierhorn, & Gerhard Gerold. (2011) Spatiotemporal modeling of the expansion of mechanized agriculture in the Bolivian lowland forests. Applied Geography. info:/10.1016/j.apgeog.2010.11.018

  • June 12, 2011
  • 03:39 PM

New data about Amazonian Dark Earth (ADE).

by Umberto in Up and Down in Moxos

The Journal of Archaeological Science has just published a new study on ADE. The study, of Birk et al. is entitled: “Faeces deposition on Amazonian Anthrosols as assessed from 5b-stanols”. I have just read it and this is my very first impression:The new data are extremely interesting. The authors look at the presence of coprostanol (a marker for faeces) in Amazonian Dark Earth (ADE). They have found a clear change in the index used to asses different sources of stanols, when comparing sample........ Read more »

Jago Jonathan Birka, Wenceslau Geraldes Teixeirab, Eduardo Góes Nevesc, & Bruno Glaser. (2011) Faeces deposition on Amazonian Anthrosols as assessed from 5β-stanols. Journal of Archaeological Science, 38(6), 1209-1220. info:/doi.org/10.1016/j.jas.2010.12.015

  • April 27, 2011
  • 02:26 PM

Pre-Columbian raised field agriculture: a review

by Umberto in Up and Down in Moxos

A new paper on raised field agriculture was published on line last week in the journal Ecological Engineering. The title, “Ecological engineers ahead of their time: The functioning of pre-Columbian raised-field agriculture and its potential contributions to sustainability today”, is a bit misleading. You would think it is just another paper claiming that the re-habilitation of raised field agriculture will provide means for sustainable, highly productive, flood/drought proof, politic........ Read more »

D. Renard, J. Iriarte, J.J. Birk, S. Rostain, B. Glaser, & D. McKey. (2011) Ecological engineers ahead of their time: The functioning of pre-Columbian raised-field agriculture and its potential contributions to sustainability today. Ecological Engineering. info:/

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