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Proc Biol Sci. 2015 Aug 7;282(1812):20150813. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2015.0813.

The domestication of Amazonia before European conquest.

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Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas da Amazônia, INPA; Avenue André Araújo, 2936 - Petrópolis, 69067-375 Manaus, AM, Brazil
Department of Geography, University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI, USA.
Department of Anthropology, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL, USA.
Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas da Amazônia, INPA; Avenue André Araújo, 2936 - Petrópolis, 69067-375 Manaus, AM, Brazil Centre for Crop Systems Analysis, and Knowledge, Technology and Innovation Group, Wageningen University, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
Museu de Arqueologia e Etnologia, Universidade de São Paulo, São Paulo, SP, Brazil.
Embrapa Solos, Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil.
Department Geography, University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS, USA.


During the twentieth century, Amazonia was widely regarded as relatively pristine nature, little impacted by human history. This view remains popular despite mounting evidence of substantial human influence over millennial scales across the region. Here, we review the evidence of an anthropogenic Amazonia in response to claims of sparse populations across broad portions of the region. Amazonia was a major centre of crop domestication, with at least 83 native species containing populations domesticated to some degree. Plant domestication occurs in domesticated landscapes, including highly modified Amazonian dark earths (ADEs) associated with large settled populations and that may cover greater than 0.1% of the region. Populations and food production expanded rapidly within land management systems in the mid-Holocene, and complex societies expanded in resource-rich areas creating domesticated landscapes with profound impacts on local and regional ecology. ADE food production projections support estimates of at least eight million people in 1492. By this time, highly diverse regional systems had developed across Amazonia where subsistence resources were created with plant and landscape domestication, including earthworks. This review argues that the Amazonian anthrome was no less socio-culturally diverse or populous than other tropical forested areas of the world prior to European conquest.


Amazonian dark earths; complex societies; landscape domestication; plant domestication; population estimates

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