Amazon Forest Gardeners

This article offers the reader clear evidence that human beings where domesticating crops 10,000 years ago. 

Amazonia’s people domesticated crops on ‘forest islands’ 10,000 years ago: Study

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  • Early Amazon human inhabitants domesticated and grew crops more than 10,000 years ago, making the region one of the world’s earliest centers of plant domestication for food, a study has found.
  • These early people left behind thousands of artificial raised forest islands in what is now the Llanos de Moxos savanna in northern Bolivia.
  • Researchers tracked glass-like microfossils to reveal evidence that these early farmers grew squash, corn and cassava.
  • The new research helps dispel a persistent myth that the Amazon long existed as a sort of wilderness paradise, largely untouched by human influences. Instead, it is now thought that humans have been profoundly altering the landscape of Amazonia for thousands of years, with lasting consequences for species conservation and habitats.

Amazonia, with its towering trees, bright birds, pink dolphins and mysterious big cats, has been painted as the quintessential wilderness, an exuberant and endless landscape that evolved beyond the touch of a cultivating human hand.  But in recent years, researchers began finding evidence that says otherwise. Bit by bit, a new picture of a long-established interrelationship between wild Amazonia and humankind has emerged.

Recently, new evidence was unearthed showing that early Amazon inhabitants domesticated and grew crops more than 10,000 years ago, transforming a part of southwest Amazonia into an “archipelago” of fertile “forest islands” dotting the grassy savanna. The region, in what is today northern Bolivia, is now thought to represent one of the world’s earliest centers of crop domestication, according to a recently published study in Nature.

Scientists have found four far-flung locations around the world where they say crops were first domesticated, around 11,000 years ago.

Rice was cultivated in China; potatoes and quinoa in the Andes; grains and pulses in the Middle East; and beans, squash and maize in Mesoamerica.  “This research helps us to prove Southwest Amazonia is likely the fifth,” Jose Iriarte, a study author from the University of Exeter, said in a statement.

The 4,700 artificial forest islands, believed to be built gradually by humans, speckle the seasonally flooded Llanos de Moxos savanna in northern Bolivia. When the region floods, these islands remain above the water.

These are just places where people dropped their rubbish, and over time they grow,” said lead author Umberto Lombardo from the University of Bern. “Of course, rubbish is very rich in nutrients, and as these areas grow they rise above the level of the flood during the rainy season, so they become good places to settle with fertile soil, so people come back to the same places all the time.”

The research team used remote sensing to map large sections of the savanna, and then “ground-truthed” 30 of the forest island sites. The team collected radio-carbon-dated sedimentary cores from all the sites and conducted archaeological excavations at four. The scientists searched within the soil cores for telltale signs of ancient crops in the form of tiny glass microfossils. Plants, as they grow, produce glass-like silica particles called phytoliths inside their cells.

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