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800-year-old farmers could teach us how to protect the Amazon
Date:4/9/2012

In the face of mass deforestation of the Amazon, recent findings indicate that we could learn from its earliest inhabitants who managed their farmland sustainably. An international team of archaeologists and paleoecologists, including Dr. Mitchell Power, curator of the Garrett Herbarium at the Natural History Museum of Utah and assistant professor in the Department of Geography at the University of Utah, report for the first time that indigenous people, living in the savannas around the Amazonian forest, farmed without using fire. These findings are published today, April 9, 2012, in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The research could provide insights into the sustainable use and conservation of these globally-important ecosystems, which are being rapidly destroyed. Pressure on the Amazonian savannas today is intense, with the land being rapidly transformed for industrial agriculture and cattle ranching.

By analyzing records of pollen, charcoal and other plant remains like phytoliths spanning more than 2,000 years, the team has created the first detailed picture of land use in the Amazonian savannas in French Guiana. This gives a unique perspective on the land before and after the first Europeans arrived in 1492.

The research shows that the early inhabitants of these Amazonian savannas practiced 'raised-field' farming, which involved constructing small agricultural mounds with wooden tools. These raised fields provided better drainage, soil aeration and moisture retention: ideal for an environment that experiences both drought and flooding. The fields also benefited from increased fertility from the muck continually scraped from the flooded basin and deposited on the mounds. The raised-field farmers limited fires, and this helped them conserve soil nutrients and organic matter and preserve soil structure.

"We used radiocarbon dating to establish the age of the raised beds," said Dr. Mi
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Contact: Patti Carpenter
pcarpenter@nhmu.utah.edu
801-585-6369
University of Utah
Source:Eurekalert  

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