Amazon's 'unnatural history': Documentary suggests forest once widely populated

Niall

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The following documentary puts to rest the idea that the Amazon forest is particularly ancient.

It discusses hundreds (possibly thousands at this point) of giant 'geo-glyphs' developers and then geographers found once they began clearing land in the 2nd half of the last century.

These earthen structures are enormous. Interviewees date them to between 2,000 and 700 years old.

Taking what we know about how landscapes can be ablated (that is, thoroughly scrubbed clean) during periods of catasclysmic upheaval, I wonder if these 'geo-glyphs' are actually parts of the foundations of ancient dwellings, and that whatever civilization once lived there was completely wiped out? It wouldn't even take cometary interaction to cause it... Maybe there's no accompanying evidence because several 'wipeout' periods have passed since they were built?

Layered over that are what appear to be far more recent human habitats. One of the early Spanish explorers' testimony is included - he describes enormous teaming cities deep in the heart of the forest... in the 16th century. Apparently whole regions can drastically change in a very short span of time.

Other interviewed geologists provide evidence for large-scale urban development more complex than medieval Europe. The Amazon forest appears to have swallowed towns and cities connected by roads!

As the narrator says towards the end:

"The idea of a vast, unbroken, holy, pristine, virgin forest is no longer credible."

 

Renaissance

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Taking what we know about how landscapes can be ablated (that is, thoroughly scrubbed clean) during periods of catasclysmic upheaval, I wonder if these 'geo-glyphs' are actually parts of the foundations of ancient dwellings, and that whatever civilization once lived there was completely wiped out? It wouldn't even take cometary interaction to cause it... Maybe there's no accompanying evidence because several 'wipeout' periods have passed since they were built?

Even if there were no cataclysmic upheaval in our time, I could imagine the normal power of nature would obliterate our rather weakly designed buildings in a relatively short period if there was no one to maintain them. That there's anything left of those ancient structures at all is quite a testament.

The topic of conserving forests also reminds me of something Joel Salatin wrote in one of his books about how cathedral forests in the US are a modern thing. Native American's would burn them because the rising ash was the right size for moisture to collect around and bring about rain (which maybe relates to the descending cometary dust and the sheets of rain?). And by burning the budding forests, it would establish grass lands for the wild herds to roam through. Grasslands are supposedly much more beneficial to an ecosystem than any forest can be.
 

LQB

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Great video and makes perfect sense. It would be very interesting to find out what factors brought an end to this civilization

Renaissance said:
The topic of conserving forests also reminds me of something Joel Salatin wrote in one of his books about how cathedral forests in the US are a modern thing. Native American's would burn them because the rising ash was the right size for moisture to collect around and bring about rain (which maybe relates to the descending cometary dust and the sheets of rain?). And by burning the budding forests, it would establish grass lands for the wild herds to roam through. Grasslands are supposedly much more beneficial to an ecosystem than any forest can be.

Yes, and burning the wood returns mineral ash to the soil and can help adjust the pH. Add animals, waste, and vegetative matter and you have the source for the black soil deposits. It would be interesting to know what animals might have been raised on what would have been grasslands.
 

Nicholas

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Wonderful documentary find Kniall.

Also reminds me of what is being learned in Africa about park preservation. Left to nature's own design the park fails but when humans and animals are added in a sustainable way, the land comes back to life.
 

whitecoast

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Nicolas said:
Wonderful documentary find Kniall.

Also reminds me of what is being learned in Africa about park preservation. Left to nature's own design the park fails but when humans and animals are added in a sustainable way, the land comes back to life.

Yes, thanks a million for the documentary Kniall! I'm glad I'm not the only one who's completely blown away by the ability of humans to sustainably feed millions of people in an environment as diverse and difficult to cultivate as the Amazon Rainforest. I can only hope this knowledge will not be lost in the coming changes -- lord knows people living in forested areas will need it.
 

H-KQGE

Dagobah Resident
Nicolas said:
Wonderful documentary find Kniall.

Also reminds me of what is being learned in Africa about park preservation. Left to nature's own design the park fails but when humans and animals are added in a sustainable way, the land comes back to life.

Similar to the information on this thread: http://cassiopaea.org/forum/index.php/topic,32894.msg450995.html#msg450995
 

Niall

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Nicolas said:
Wonderful documentary find Kniall.

Also reminds me of what is being learned in Africa about park preservation. Left to nature's own design the park fails but when humans and animals are added in a sustainable way, the land comes back to life.

Yes, apparently the whole conservation movement has been focused in completely the wrong direction, for both people and planet:


https://youtu.be/vpTHi7O66pI
 

LQB

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Kniall said:
Yes, apparently the whole conservation movement has been focused in completely the wrong direction, for both people and planet:


https://youtu.be/vpTHi7O66pI

Absolutely! Salatin and many others have been teaching small farmers throughout the US how to greatly improve their land by controlled/mob grazing - for many years now.

Even if you are starting with nothing on the land, you can distribute hay over the fields, then mob-graze the animals for a good start to the next season.
 

Renaissance

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Here's another good one:


https://youtu.be/yxMNHsK-IpI

I think the presenter gives a good overview of topic and the kinds of practices being implemented (to include the use of hay in deserts and mob stocking that LBQ brought up).
 

Odyssey

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That was a really great documentary, Kniall. Thanks for sharing it. It's a little creepy how there are layers of habitats in the Amazon and a real reminder of the temporary-ness of things all over the earth. I found the part about people being a part of nature and molding the landscape to their needs in a non-destructive (or even if it seems destructive, such as in slash and burn, it makes sense in the grand scheme of things) way very interesting and certainly a good lesson for the future. The part about super fertile black earth was nice too.

While watching it I was thinking about the primitive tribes in the Amazon and elsewhere. People think they have been around since the dawn of time but really they could be descendents of the survivors of whatever catastrophe that wiped out these "higher" civilizations and just be hundreds of years old vs thousands. Laura made a comment once about some primitive peoples somewhere (I can't remember the exact context) who'd made no discernible progress over generations and generations. If these tribes aren't as old as people think, maybe they haven't had as much time to progress.
 

Dylan

Jedi
The wisdom of the ancients agricultural systems is really what is needed to cultivate a natural system which can sustain human populations. Our petro intensive ways of agriculture will and are destroying natural systems in just about every corner they are practised. I work with a gentleman who started a good forest in Nelson around 30 years ago, and I'll have to get him to send some pics I can share to demonstrate it's effectiveness as an agricultural system.

One thing he discusses is the wasting of quality topsoil which the current system is guilty of, which then the fields are fertilized with the synthetically derived macronutrients NPK. Which also happen to be the main ingredients in most incendiary munitions. Hey, the armament industry had to put their supplies to use after the Second World War somehow!

The society I work with and I have started a community garden in a neglected city park directly behind my place. The first order of business was to enrich the soil prior to commencing operations. Building the existing soil will create microbial relationships that yield much more productive plants that trucking in inert soil from a landscape supplier. Our biggest challenge will be keeping the ungulate population out! But, as the area is not fenced yet, I welcome the natural fertilization!

Great vid! Thanks!
 

Michael B-C

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Yes, very interesting Niall, thank you!

Struck me as bizarre that no one saw fit to raise the question how such large scale, complex societies could just vanish from the pages of history without a sign of man made causes. Obviously the film makers just did not want to go there!

What also came to mind was the possibility that some kind of significant comet bombardment might also have triggered the astonishing breadth and depth of biodiversity currently seen as unique to the region - that if we imagine a very different flora and fauna prior to such an event changing drastically as a result of gene mutations caused by incoming cometary materials. If one thinks of the clearly significant changes that took place with regard to the North American fauna (perhaps buffalo and other large mammals) post the impact that created the Carolina Bays and which wiped out all the existing large animals such as mammoths etc. The speed and breadth of such changes could be dramatic and far swifter than current evolutionary theory allows for. A wild thought perhaps but it is clear from other sources that small changes to an environment can have astonishing ramifications across multiple species and ecologies.

For example (although not mutation related), here is an inspiring and thought provoking short clip regarding the widespread impact the reintroduction of wolves has had on Yellowstone. Really inspiring – and tells us how even small changes to the information flow within an environment can spread exponentially across multiple receivers.


https://youtu.be/ysa5OBhXz-Q
 

Dylan

Jedi
I think, in the case of the amazon societies at least, that the causes were explicated in the video. If we take the journal entries of the conquistador who set out to find el dorado (name eludes me) as evidence of the existence of the large scale society in the Amazon, then the reasons for their disappearance are in fact given by the video. European disease and conquest were and are the best explanation, and the archaeological evidence cited suggests that the peoples of the amazon societies may have historically occupied the area from 900ad on, which again lends the idea of their demise being a result of contact with the European civilizations rather than, as you suggest the result of cometary bombardment. Though, I suppose we should not rule that out, without more evidence.

And with regards to your reference to the wolves in Yellowstone, I would suggest that reintroducing an apex predator into a conservation area is not a small change, but rather a very large one. Interesting, though, to consider that in an indirect way, wolf populations were responsible for restoring much of the declining aspen groves because they preyed upon ballooning ungulate and beaver populations which were responsible for the trees decline.
 

Michael B-C

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I hear what you say Dylan with regard to disease – they certainly reiterated that point enough, although this ‘excuse’ is often rolled out as a catch all reason to disguise the concerted genocidal practises that the European’s brought with them and which played a far greater role than is comfortable to admit; after all disease is something which we could not be wholly responsible for and is hence used as a get out of jail card. But I am not still not wholly convinced; the question remains how could such a complex, highly built up and populous civilisation as that Orellana described in 1541/2 have vanished so completely from sight from the records of later chroniclers? He talks about “land” not jungle, and a land that is “as fertile and normal in appearance as our Spain” with complex road systems and for a distance of six miles from the river “very large cities of glistening white”, which sound as if they are made from materials that would not have dissolved as a result of abandonment and certainly no mere tribal settlements. Where did they all go within a couple of hundred years before the real wave of intrusion and desecration began?

The later waves of European’s make no note of these settlements or culture, describing pockets of people (even the narration asks where had all the people and settlements gone and had “something cataclysmic happened?”) This does not make disease and violence a likely major contributor, or at least it makes it an after fact coup de grâce. It should also be noted that the only remains that have been unearthed thus far are the large scale geometric scars in the landscape; no evidence of structure or significant above ground evidence remains. All these foot prints are aligned to a North South axis which again hints a culture of sophistication. One might argue they were most likely using highly bio-degradable materials for any structural undertakings but their abandonment on such a wide scale prior to significant European intrusion still remains a smoking gun to my mind.

I also understand why the Wolf reintroduction may be viewed as a significant re-balancing of the perceived pyramid system of the natural order; but the remarkable thing remains that what seems on first sight a threatening act to the potential balance of things has actually increased the health and breadth of the eco-system as a whole. The apex may appear to hold sway but in fact is shown to be just one part of a complex system of interdependency that prospers best when all elements are present and functioning. All elements play equally important if different roles in maintaining a healthy, symbiotic system. The pyramid view is hence a misnomer; the biosphere is really a single, circular system of supreme compatibility. That to me is real food for thought when it comes to man’s relationship to his place in the ‘nature’ of things.
 

Dylan

Jedi
With regards to wolves in Yellowstone, I wasn't suggesting viewing the ecosystem there as a pyramid, simply that as you say, apex predators do have influences that are not as obvious as the carcasses of the prey they strip clean. Obviously, though, wolf packs are truly important to the idea of conservation of the preexisting natural systems which European colonization displaced. The sad thing, to me, is the perception of the ranchers around the area who are usually against the reintroduction of wolves due to the perceived and real threat to their animal assets. I believe they are remunerated by the govt for every wolf killed animal. But, the point was to note that tweaking one part of the system can have large and lasting impacts on the whole, which certainly does have implications for the way in which we view our role within our particular environments, so thanks for getting my mind working.

Now, your argument regarding the mystery of the advanced Amazonian culture does certainly pique ones curiosity. Perhaps there would be geological signs, or could the use of dendrochronolgy yield insight into the conditions between the middle of the 16th century to the early 20th? Perhaps even, there is a question for the C's here...because now I am really interested in learning about these peoples!

One of the undercurrents running through the film was the conflict between contemporary conservation ideology and that of development of natural systems. One group wants a scorched earth policy and the other would prefer to leave it untouched. The developers argue that it is necessary to create jobs and utilize useless and plentiful forests (not my opinion of forests btw!) and the conservationists argue that man's involvement in natural systems runs contrary to preserving them; they are pristine and this best left alone. I think there is a middle ground, which is actually the only way I see our civilizations moving into the future. We must be able to, like the food foresters in Morocco whose tribe has been tending an oasis for perhaps 4000 years, or the native Americans who used natural methods like fire and cultivated food bearing plays along well travelled routes, be able to work with nature to make the land around us the most productive with the fewest inputs.

Contemporary industrialized agriculture is the most environmentally damaging practice on the planet, which is mind boggling if you've ever seen an open pit mine. But, as the video points out, and an old quote notes 'mankind owes it's existance to a 6 inch layer of topsoil and the fact that it rains.' The video notes that the prevalence of the kind of soil useful for cultivation tended to coincide with the discovery of what appeared to be settlements (not to mention the fish trapping ponds). It also points out that once the land in the amazon is cleared, the soil becomes inert very quickly and is not conducive to crop cultivation or grazing.

We, as a species, need to recognize the value of working food forest systems. Yes, grasslands are also important parts of the global system, but wherever environmental conditions allow it, food forests ought to be our priority. Nutrient dense food yielded from places which require little input, perhaps only as much as putting our organic waste back into the earth, is possible only if we can cast aside out modern conception of large scale ag. Not that the two can't coexist, but as a species, we either begin the transition to holistic agriculture or our practices will result in environments which will no longer respond to man made inputs and no longer yield.

Perhaps understanding the wisdom of the ancients like the forgotten peoples of the amazon will help us understand how best to do it?
 
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