[Marxism] The Amazon rainforest a thousand years ago, not exactly "Edenic"
lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Dec 15 07:10:13 MST 2016
A ‘Stonehenge,’ and a Mystery, in the Amazon
By SIMON ROMERO
CALÇOENE, Brazil — As the foreman for a cattle ranch in the far reaches
of the Brazilian Amazon, Lailson Camelo da Silva was razing trees to
convert rain forest into pasture when he stumbled across a bizarre
arrangement of towering granite blocks.
“I had no idea that I was discovering the Amazon’s own Stonehenge,” said
Mr. da Silva, 65, on a scorching October day as he gazed at the
archaeological site located just north of the Equator. “It makes me
wonder: What other secrets about our past are still hidden in Brazil’s
After conducting radiocarbon testing and carrying out measurements
during the winter solstice, scholars in the field of archaeoastronomy
determined that an indigenous culture arranged the megaliths into an
astronomical observatory about 1,000 years ago, or five centuries before
the European conquest of the Americas began.
Their findings, along with other archaeological discoveries in Brazil in
recent years — including giant land carvings, remains of fortified
settlements and even complex road networks — are upending earlier views
of archaeologists who argued that the Amazon had been relatively
untouched by humans except for small, nomadic tribes.
Instead, some scholars now assert that the world’s largest tropical rain
forest was far less “Edenic” than previously imagined, and that the
Amazon supported a population of as many as 10 million people before the
epidemics and large-scale slaughter put into motion by European colonizers.
Given the charged relations between white societies and native peoples,
inquiry into Indian culture and history is inevitably contentious. But
the recent scholarship is especially controversial. To begin with, some
researchers—many but not all from an older generation—deride the new
theories as fantasies arising from an almost willful misinterpretation
of data and a perverse kind of political correctness. "I have seen no
evidence that large numbers of people ever lived in the Beni," says
Betty J. Meggers, of the Smithsonian Institution. "Claiming otherwise is
just wishful thinking." Similar criticisms apply to many of the new
scholarly claims about Indians, according to Dean R. Snow, an
anthropologist at Pennsylvania State University. The problem is that
"you can make the meager evidence from the ethnohistorical record tell
you anything you want," he says. "It's really easy to kid yourself."
More important are the implications of the new theories for today's
ecological battles. Much of the environmental movement is animated,
consciously or not, by what William Denevan, a geographer at the
University of Wisconsin, calls, polemically, "the pristine myth"—the
belief that the Americas in 1491 were an almost unmarked, even Edenic
land, "untrammeled by man," in the words of the Wilderness Act of 1964,
one of the nation's first and most important environmental laws. As the
University of Wisconsin historian William Cronon has written, restoring
this long-ago, putatively natural state is, in the view of
environmentalists, a task that society is morally bound to undertake.
Yet if the new view is correct and the work of humankind was pervasive,
where does that leave efforts to restore nature?
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