Ancient amazonian societies managed the forest intensively but sustainably — here’s what we can learn from them

The Amazon’s trees, soils and mysterious earthworks tell the story of the millions who lived there before European arrival

Photo courtesy of Kate Evans
Agroforesters grow crops among trees for benefits such as increased biodiversity and soil health. Of the ancient sites archaeologists are finding in Brazil, one researcher says, “It looks a lot like agroforestry — managing the landscape, encouraging palms and probably other useful plants as well.” Photo courtesy of Icaro Cooke Vieira/CIFOR
The authors of one study created a conceptual drawing of the pre-Columbian changes in vegetation and land use. Phase 2 shows controlled burning to clear forest to allow for crop cultivation, while phase 3 shows the selective enrichment of the forest with useful/edible species and the formation of “terra preta” or Amazonian Dark Earths. Image courtesy of Dr. S. Yoshi Maezumi.

“Across the tropics, because of this idea of pristine ecosystems, conservation has been used to justify kicking indigenous people or small-scale farmers off their lands.” –Patrick Roberts

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