Rainforest researchers hit pay dirt

August 29, 2002

It shouldn't be there, but it is. Deep in the central Amazonian rainforest lies a rich, black soil known locally as terra preta do Indio (Indian dark earth) that farmers have worked for years with minimal fertilization. A Brazilian-American archeological team believed terra preta, which may cover 10 percent of Amazonia, was the product of intense habitation by Amerindian populations who flourished in the area for two millennia, but they recently unearthed evidence that societies lived and farmed in the area up to 11,000 years ago.

As reported in the August 9 issue of the journal Science, such long-lasting fertility is an anomaly in the tropics, where punishing conditions make the land highly acidic, low in organic matter and essential nutrients, and nearly incapable of sustaining life.

In 1994, James Petersen, associate professor and chair of anthropology at the University of Vermont, and Michael Heckenberger, now at the University of Florida, investigated their first terra preta deposit on a riverbank near Açutuba. The three-kilometer site was thick with broken pieces of ceramic, relics of a large, ancient society. To date, they and fellow researchers have excavated four sites and explored 30 others near the junction of the Amazon and Rio Negro.

What researchers find most remarkable is that instead of destroying the soil, the indigenous inhabitants improved it - something ecologists don't know how to do today. Although the project is in its early stages, modern scientists hope to learn the principles behind terra preta. The ability to reproduce the super-fertile soil could have broad impact, making it possible to sustain intensive agriculture in the Amazon and other hot regions.
-end-


University of Vermont

Related Anthropology Articles from Brightsurf:

Study finds field of forensic anthropology lacks diversity
The field of forensic anthropology is a relatively homogenous discipline in terms of diversity (people of color, LGBTQ+ individuals, people with mental and physical disabilities, etc.) and this is highly problematic for the field of study and for most forensic anthropologists.

Neandertal gene variant increases risk of severe COVID-19
A study published in Nature shows that a segment of DNA that causes their carriers to have an up to three times higher risk of developing severe COVID-19 is inherited from Neandertals.

How do Americans view the virus? Anthropology professor examines attitudes of COVID
In her latest study, Northern Arizona University professor Lisa Hardy looks at how Americans' attitudes and responses have changed during the time of the pandemic and how to many people, the virus is not a biological agent but instead a malicious actor.

Neandertals may have had a lower threshold for pain
Pain is mediated through specialized nerve cells that are activated when potentially harmful things affect various parts of our bodies.

Running in Tarahumara culture
Running in Tarahumara (Rarámuri) Culture. The Tarahumara (Rarámuri) are a Native American people from Chihuahua, Mexico, who have long been famous for running, but there is widespread incredulity about how and why they run such long distances.

The growing pains of orphan chimpanzees
Using long-term behavioral and hormonal data from wild chimpanzees in the Taï Forest, Côte d'Ivoire, researchers from the Taï Chimpanzee Project at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, have revealed that mothers may be shaping pre-adult growth and offspring muscle mass even without direct provisioning.

Caribbean settlement began in Greater Antilles, say University of Oregon researchers
A fresh, comprehensive look at archaeological data suggests that seafaring South Americans settled first on the large northernmost islands of the Greater Antilles rather than gradually moving northward from the much closer, smaller islands of the Lesser Antilles.

Human songs share universal patterns across world's cultures
From love songs to lullabies, songs from cultures spanning the globe -- despite their diversity -- exhibit universal patterns, according to a new study.

Skull features among Asian and Asian-derived groups differ significantly
Forensic anthropologists have now discovered that several skull features in Asian and Asian-derived groups differ significantly with regard to shape, such that they can be distinguished using statistical analyses.

Skull dimensions of Dominicans and Haitians differ despite close physical proximity
Researchers from Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) have conducted a craniometric study (measuring the main part of the skull) on understudied and marginalized groups and found that skull dimensions of Dominicans and Haitians, who occupy a relatively small island of Hispaniola, are different from each other.

Read More: Anthropology News and Anthropology Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.