SYMP 3-2 - Cultural diversity and biological diversity in ancient amazonia: Resource abundance and alternative paths to landscape domestication

Monday, August 8, 2011: 2:00 PM
Ballroom G, Austin Convention Center
Eduardo Góes Neves, Universidade de São Paulo
Background/Question/Methods and Results/Conclusions

The Amazonian biome is known by its large biodiversity, but the comparative study of its current and ancient native populations shows a great amount of cultural and social diversity as well. Such cultural diversity can be assessed, for instance, through the large number of languages and language families found there, one of the highest in the world. Language diversity is a good match for biological diversity because the processes that lead to language diversification can be similar to the ones that lead to biological diversification. Both processes are also long-term and unfold over millennia, although the scale, pace and mechanisms of cultural diversification can be much faster than of biological evolution. In the last years, archaeology has shown that different populations with different cultures have lived in Amazonia throughout the Holocene. Such history of cultural diversity contrasts to other places in the word, such as Europe and Sub-Saharan Africa. One of the striking differences is the role played by non-domesticated plants and animals in the diet of current, but mostly ancient, Amazonian populations. Traditionally, this pattern has been interpreted as the result of limiting ecological factors acting on these populations. However, there is now strong evidence that Amazonian landscapes have thoroughly been created and modified by native populations in the past. Based on such evidence, I suggest that the relative abundance of resources in the Amazon posed a very weak evolutionary pressure for agriculture to develop there. This abundance allowed for the development of diversified adaptive strategies based on the combined use of domesticates and the management of wild resources. Such strategies, by their turn, tied people to their territories on the long run, providing the background for cultural diversity to emerge.

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