January 12, 2002  Dr. Clark L. Erickson: "The Pre-Columbian Domestication of the Amazon"

Both public and private institutions are making massive efforts to save
Amazonian tropical forests from destruction by rural development and poor
management.  Conservationists and environmental groups consider the forests
to be classic examples of "pristine" and "natural" environments.  But
historical ecologists and landscape archaeologists point out that human
impact on Amazonian ecosystems has been massive in temporal and geographical
scale.   Anthropologists once argued that human societies "adapt" to local
environments through subsistence strategies,  settlement patterns, and
socio-political organization.  Dr. Erickson argued that the concept of
"domestication" better captures what Amazonian peoples did to their
environments.  Rather than passively respond to, transform, or degrade a
given environment, the hunter-gatherers, fishermen and farmers intentionally
built what we today appreciate as natural, and wild; or as biologically
diverse and complex.  The archaeology of landscape provides a
people-centric, historical perspective that helps us understand how the
environments came to be.

Dr. Erickson currently directs an ongoing, multidisciplinary investigation
of traditional agricultural systems and historical ecology.  He studies
agricultural production, pre-Columbian land use, anthropogenic landscapes,
human environmental impact, and the technological and engineering knowledge
of prehispanic farmers in the Amazonian region of Bolivia (Llanos de Moxos)
and in highland Peru and Bolivia.  The fieldwork requires archaeological
survey, mapping, and  excavation of agricultural earthworks (raised fields,
causeways, canals, and settlement mounds), digital analysis of remote
sensing, and establishment of a geographic information system.  The research
also includes agricultural experimentation based on the now-abandoned
technology identified from archaeological research.  Between 1981 and 1994,
Erickson collaborated with indigenous communities in an "applied
archaeology" program of raised field  experiments.  Since 1995, his research
has focused on a vast complex of pre-Columbian earthworks in the Baures, the
region along the border between Bolivia and Brazil.  The research is funded
by the National Science Foundation, the H.  John Heinz Charitable Trust, the
Research Foundation, American Philosophical Society, and the Interamerican
Foundation.

Dr. Erickson is leading a Far Horizon tour of archaeological sites in
the Bolivian lowlands and highlands during July, 2002
(http://www.farhorizon.com)

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