Time and Complexity in Historical Ecology

Time and Complexity in Historical Ecology: Studies in the Neotropical Lowlands

William Balée
Clark L. Erickson
Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 432
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/bale13562
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Time and Complexity in Historical Ecology
    Book Description:

    This collection of studies by anthropologists, botanists, ecologists, and biologists is an important contribution to the emerging field of historical ecology. The book combines cutting-edge research with new perspectives to emphasize the close relationship between humans and their natural environment.

    Contributors examine how alterations in the natural world mirror human cultures, societies, and languages. Treating the landscape like a text, these researchers decipher patterns and meaning in the Ecuadorian Andes, Amazonia, the desert coast of Peru, and other regions in the neotropics. They show how local peoples have changed the landscape over time to fit their needs by managing and modifying species diversity, enhancing landscape heterogeneity, and controlling ecological disturbance. In turn, the environment itself becomes a form of architecture rich with historical and archaeological significance.

    Time and Complexity in Historical Ecology explores thousands of years of ecological history while also addressing important contemporary issues, such as biodiversity and genetic variation and change. Engagingly written and expertly researched, this book introduces and exemplifies a unique method for better understanding the link between humans and the biosphere.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-50961-9
    Subjects: Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, Environmental Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. PREFACE
    (pp. ix-x)
    WILLIAM BALÉE and CLARK ERICKSON
  4. CONTRIBUTORS
    (pp. xi-xiii)
  5. [Map]
    (pp. xiv-xiv)
  6. TIME, COMPLEXITY, AND HISTORICAL ECOLOGY
    (pp. 1-18)
    WILLIAM BALÉE and CLARK L. ERICKSON

    Historical ecology is a powerful perspective for understanding the complex historical relationship between human beings and the biosphere. The present volume proceeds from the axiom that humanity in its historic paths across earth has interceded in material and measurable ways in a biotic world that evolved previously by natural selection and other evolutionary forces, and that the changes thus imposed on nature have in turn been reflected in human cultures, societies, and languages through time. In effect, historical ecology encompasses the view that wherever humans have trodden, the natural environment is somehow different, sometimes in barely perceptible ways, sometimes in...

  7. PART 1
    • 1 THE FERAL FORESTS OF THE EASTERN PETÉN
      (pp. 21-56)
      DAVID G. CAMPBELL, ANABEL FORD, KAREN S. LOWELL, JAY WALKER, JEFFREY K. LAKE, CONSTANZA OCAMPO-RAEDER, ANDREW TOWNESMITH and MICHAEL BALICK

      The new discipline of historical ecology recognizes that human culture and the environment mutually influence each other (Balée 1998), rather than following the conventional one-way paradigm in which humans are ever adapting to their environments. We examine the contemporary Maya forest of the eastern Petén from this realistic vantage point, suggesting that its species composition and phytosociology are human artifacts dating from the Late Classic period. Wiseman (1978) was the first to use the term man-made to describe the Maya forest. About the same time, Turner (1978) and Hammond (1978) wrote the epithet for the Maya swidden and milpa, suggesting...

    • 2 A NEOTROPICAL FRAMEWORK FOR TERRA PRETA
      (pp. 57-86)
      ELIZABETH GRAHAM

      In this chapter, I take as my starting point the view that Amazonian Dark Earth (ADE) studies (Glaser and Woods 2004; Lehmann, Kern et al. 2003), originally known as research into terra preta or terra preta do índio (Kern and Kämpf 1989; Sombroek 1966; Woods 2003:3; Zech, Pabst, and Bechtold 1979), comprise the most important scientific contribution thus far to our understanding of human impact on the environment over the long term. An interest in the earth as transformed by human action is by no means in a fledgling state, but the consequences of human impact that attract intensive study...

    • 3 DOMESTICATED FOOD AND SOCIETY IN EARLY COASTAL PERU
      (pp. 87-126)
      CHRISTINE A. HASTORF

      The recent literature, including the chapters in this volume, debate about the extent of human impact on post-Pleistocene Amazon basin ecology. Discussion has included the landscape as a form of built environment and to what extent humans have altered this vast South American ecology over the past 10,000 years. Over this time span, the environment shifted to the modern condition. In the past, the annual cycle was more seasonal and moist in the low-lying tropical forest areas than today. Intimately linked to these environmental changes are the changes that occurred within the human groups themselves. These interactive influences lead us...

    • 4 MICROVERTEBRATE SYNECOLOGY AND ANTHROPOGENIC FOOTPRINTS IN THE FORESTED NEOTROPICS
      (pp. 127-150)
      PETER W. STAHL

      Historical ecology and archaeology share a mutual yet asymmetrical relationship, as the former must rely on the techniques and methodologies of the latter for generating inferences about a deep time that existed beyond human memory and before the advent of written documents. Humans impacted most of their biosphere in a dialectical relationship that produced culturally and historically determined landscapes (Balée 1998:16) at least since the onset of the Holocene. As expressions of cumulative human existence, ancient landscapes are cultural artifacts that archaeologists can recover and recognize. This is particularly important in the Western Hemisphere, where much human memory was tragically...

  8. PART 2
    • 5 PRE-EUROPEAN FOREST CULTIVATION IN AMAZONIA
      (pp. 153-164)
      WILLIAM M. DENEVAN

      Traditional cultivation in Amazonian forests today is dominated by longfallow shifting cultivation. However, there is little evidence for it prior to about ad 1600. A new model of pre-European agriculture has been suggested based on the inefficiency of stone axes, the evidence of anthropogenic soils, and archaeology. The productive landscape probably consisted of semi-intensive fields and managed bush fallows, surrounded by zones of modified forest manipulated by hunting and gathering and other human activities. Not only was soil fertility apparently maintained artificially by organic inputs and in-field burning, but also some soil was altered in the form of dark earth,...

    • 6 FRUIT TREES AND THE TRANSITION TO FOOD PRODUCTION IN AMAZONIA
      (pp. 165-186)
      CHARLES R. CLEMENT

      The genesis chapter of the Bible and the archaeological record agree: fruit trees were important subsistence resources during the Pleistocene/Holocene transition to food production in the Middle East (Tudge 1999), the Americas in general (Lentz 2000), Amazonia (Roosevelt 1999), and other tropical and subtropical areas. Hence, fruit trees must have contributed significantly to human carrying capacity: the ability of the landscape to supply sufficient nutritious food and other materials to guarantee human reproduction. As food production became dominant, numerous fruit trees were domesticated, many being modified by selection as much as were domesticated annual crops, but over time they became...

    • 7 THE HISTORICAL ECOLOGY OF A COMPLEX LANDSCAPE IN BOLIVIA
      (pp. 187-234)
      CLARK L. ERICKSON and WILLIAM BALÉE

      Ideal studies of the interface between people and the environment involve collaboration among scholars from diverse backgrounds to understand how complex landscapes came to be over periods of hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Historical ecological research displays such interdisciplinary underpinnings because it is situated at the interface and overlap of the social sciences, natural sciences, and humanities in the programmatic study of how the typically complex interactions of nature and culture have become historical and cultural landscapes. Such diversity is in evidence with regard to the scholars who have contributed to this volume, from archaeology, ethnography, ethnobotany, genetics, geography,...

    • 8 THE DOMESTICATED LANDSCAPES OF THE BOLIVIAN AMAZON
      (pp. 235-278)
      CLARK L. ERICKSON

      Domestication is a comprehensive concept in anthropology referring to the cultural and genetic control of plants and animals and the processes of adopting farming and living in permanent settlements. Native Amazonians domesticated and cultivated a variety of crops (but few animal species) many millennia before the arrival of Europeans. In this chapter, I explore a simple hypothesis: that Amazonian peoples of the past invested more energy in domesticating entire landscapes than in domesticating individual plant and animal species. Through landscape engineering and the use of simple technology such as fire, the past inhabitants “domesticated” the forest, savanna, soil, and water...

    • 9 POLITICAL ECONOMY AND PRE-COLUMBIAN LANDSCAPE TRANSFORMATIONS IN CENTRAL AMAZONIA
      (pp. 279-310)
      EDUARDO G. NEVES and JAMES B. PETERSEN

      One of the major recent advances in Amazonian anthropology is the recognition that past indigenous populations consistently transformed the regional landscape through the management of natural resources (Cleary 2001; Denevan 1992a, 2001; Posey 1985; Stahl 2002). Accordingly, landscape management can be defined here as “the human manipulation of inorganic and organic components of the environment that brings about a net environmental diversity greater than that of so-called pristine conditions, with no human presence” (Balée 1994:116).

      This awareness of landscape management should be understood in light of what is now a prolonged debate about the role of environmental forces in the...

    • 10 HISTORY, ECOLOGY, AND ALTERITY: Visualizing Polity in Ancient Amazonia
      (pp. 311-340)
      MICHAEL HECKENBERGER

      Diversity, complexity, hybridization, and globalization are a few of the terms that today define human ecological research. Largely gone are assumptions of equilibrium and homeostatic self-regulation, mechanistic feedback loops, and closed social and ecological systems that dominated ecological anthropology from the mid- to late twentieth century. In their place, many researchers today talk of sociocultural self-organization and scalar iteration, uncertainty and negotiation, and dynamic change. In Amazonia, specifically, recent studies indicate that much of what is commonly considered as untouched nature is not entirely natural after all, but the by-product of dynamic human-environment interactions. Many parts of the Amazon, in...

    • 11 BETWEEN THE SHIP AND THE BULLDOZER: Historical Ecology of Guajá Subsistence, Sociality, and Symbolism After 1500
      (pp. 341-364)
      LORETTA A. CORMIER

      Contemporary foragers have been a subject of intense interest since the origins of anthropology, when they were situated on the lowest rung of a cultural evolutionary ladder. The perspective of historical ecology offers an approach whereby the subsistence strategy of any culture is explicable only through understanding the dynamics of human-ecological interaction through time. In early Amazonianist ecological anthropology, the approach of cultural ecology employed the notion of “limiting factors,” which suggested that a poverty of a local resource, such as poor soils (Meggers 1957, 1973) or insufficient protein (Good 1987; Gross 1975; Harris 1974), affects population size, degree of...

    • 12 LANDSCAPES OF THE PAST, FOOTPRINTS OF THE FUTURE: Historical Ecology and the Study of Contemporary Land-Use Change in the Amazon
      (pp. 365-406)
      EDUARDO S. BRONDÍZIO

      The historical ecological approach that emerged during the 1990s is contributing to a growing awareness of the long-term and processual interactions between human populations and environment. It has challenged the recurrent simplification of culture-nature interactions as dichotomous and deterministic and the perception that natural and anthropogenic landscapes are mutually exclusive (Balée 1998; Crumley 1994). This chapter reflects on the potential contribution of an applied historical ecology for the analysis of contemporary land-use change in the Amazon. Land use in contemporary Amazonia does not occur in a historical vacuum despite the overwhelming changes taking place in the region recently. Contemporary land-use...

  9. INDEX
    (pp. 407-418)