The Amazon is an Ancient Ecological Engineering Project
The Amazon rainforests are generally thought of as one of the last great untouched ecosystems on our ever-urbanizing planet. However, recent discoveries have shown that the rainforest was likely once home to vast, developed civilizations capable of completing massive infrastructure projects such as sprawling geoglyph structures. The original purpose and/or meaning of these geoglyphs remains a mystery, but one thing is for sure: the people who built them were technologically advanced for their time.
To add to the level of sophistication of ancient Amazonian people, a new study has found many of the plant species in the seemingly wild Amazonian ecosystem were actually cultivated by Pre-Columbian civilizations up to 8,000 years ago. Ecologists from the Naturalis Biodiversity Center in Leiden, the Netherlands claim that these species domesticated by ancient Amazonian civilizations now represent the dominant flora in many parts of the Amazon. This means that rather than the untamed wilds we imagine the Amazon to be, it instead can be viewed as the result of a thousands-year-long ecological engineering project that has radically affected the biodiversity found today.
Many of the plant species cultivated in ancient times are still used as primary food sources in many parts of the Amazon. The study’s lead researcher, Carolina Levis, believes this shows that the Amazon is a literal ‘piece’ of the ancestry and legacy of Amazonian people:
We found that a quarter of these domesticated tree species are widely distributed in the basin and dominate large expanses of forest. These species are vital for the livelihood and economy of Amazonian peoples and indicate that the Amazonian flora is in part a surviving heritage of its former inhabitants.
According to their recent publication in Science, the researchers believe this discovery will not only change how we view Pre-Columbian Amazonian civilizations, but also help with rainforest conservation efforts. Despite the widespread notion that the Amazon is an untouched, wild ecosystem, this research shows it’s actually a highly cultivated system of food production resources:
Detecting the widespread effect of ancient societies in modern forests not only strengthens efforts to conserve domesticated and useful wild plant populations, which is of critical importance for modern food security, but also strongly refutes ideas of Amazonian forests being untouched by man.
This research shows that climate change and our relationship with the environment isn’t anything new but has been a constant theme of human existence throughout our time here on spaceship Earth. Research into humanity’s past is showing more and more that we might not be the first race of technologically-advanced humans to alter our planet’s climate and ecosystem. Let’s just hope we won’t be the last. Keep driving that gas-guzzler and using single-use plastic products, though. I’m sure it’s fine.