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

tchell Power. We came to the conclusion that corn pollen we found dated to 800 years ago by dating charcoal deposits from above and below the sediment where the pollen was found."

It has long been assumed that indigenous people used fire as a way of clearing the savannas and managing their land. However, this new research shows that this was not the case here. Instead, it reveals a sharp increase in fires with the arrival of the first Europeans, an event known as the 'Columbian Encounter'. The study shows that this labor-intensive approach to farming in the Amazonian savannas was lost when as much as 95 percent of the indigenous population was wiped out as a result of Old World diseases, brought by European settlers.

The results of this study are in sharp contrast with what is known about the Columbian Encounter's impact on tropical forest, where the collapse of indigenous populations after 1492 led to decreased forest clearance for agriculture, which in turn, caused a decline in burning. This study shows that high fire incidence in these Amazonian savannas is a post-1492, rather than pre-1492, phenomenon. "Our results force reconsideration of the long-held view that fires were a pervasive feature of Amazonian savannas, said Power"

Dr Jos Iriarte of the University of Exeter, lead author on the paper, said: "This ancient, time-tested, fire-free land use could pave the way for the modern implementation of raised-field agriculture in rural areas of Amazonia. Intensive raised-field agriculture can become an alternative to burning down tropical forest for slash and burn agriculture by reclaiming otherwise abandoned and new savannah ecosystems created by deforestation. It has the capability of helping curb carbon emissions and at the same time provide food security for the more vulnerable and poorest rural populations."

Professor Doyle McKey of the University of Montpellier said: "Amazonian savannas are among the most important ec
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Contact: Patti Carpenter
pcarpenter@nhmu.utah.edu
801-585-6369
University of Utah
Source:Eurekalert  

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