It looks like the Amazon rainforest we know and love today isn’t pure and pristine at all. Research by the University of Exeter has revealed how it is far from untouched, thanks to ancient farmers who transformed the region in dramatic ways. Apparently the farmers introduced crops to new areas, boosted the number of tree species that generated food, and even used fires to improve the soil.
The study was undertaken by archaeologists, palaeoecologists, botanists and ecologists, and reveals the way early Amazon residents farmed intensively without having to continually clear fresh areas of woodland. They made their discoveries by analysing charcoal, pollen, plant remains and lake sediments.
The forest’s ancient residents grew maize, sweet potato, manioc and squash, and the remains date back an impressive 4,500 years. They apparently improved the soil by burning vegetation, adding manure and digging in waste food, and as well as the products they grew they also ate river fish and turtles. The discoveries explain why areas of forest surrounding archaeological sites tend to feature more edible plants than average.
Dr Yoshi Maezumi led the team. He says that ancient humans found a way to create a nutrient rich soil called Amazonian Dark Earths by farming in much more sustainable way, a way that continually enriched the soil rather than contstantly depleting it. The amazing soil they created let the people grow nutrient-hungry crops like maize in more places, even in regions the soil was very poor. And that in turn fed a growing Amazon population.
The ancient farming method involved clearing some low trees and weeds while keeping the closed canopy above. It’s dramatically different from today’s brutal methods, which simply involve clearing more and more land for industrial scale grain, soya bean, and cattle production. It reveals there really is a better way, a more efficient way to farm without destroying precious forests.