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Human presence, anthropogenic landscape modifications and environmental change during the Holocene in the Llanos de Moxos (LM) - Bolivian Amazon

English title Human presence, anthropogenic landscape modifications and environmental change during the Holocene in the Llanos de Moxos (LM) - Bolivian Amazon
Applicant Veit Heinz
Number 141277
Funding scheme Project funding (Div. I-III)
Research institution Geographisches Institut Universität Bern
Institution of higher education University of Berne - BE
Main discipline Other disciplines of Environmental Sciences
Start/End 01.04.2012 - 31.03.2015
Approved amount 435'698.00
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All Disciplines (5)

Discipline
Other disciplines of Environmental Sciences
Geomorphology
Pedology
Hydrology, Limnology, Glaciology
Other disciplines of Earth Sciences

Keywords (8)

Holocene; Geoarchaeology; Llanos de Moxos; Human-environmental interaction; Soils; Raised fields; Pre-Columbian cultures; Bolivian Amazon

Lay Summary (English)

Lead
Lay summary

Environmental conditions and cultural evolution prior to the arrival of the Spanish conquerors in the 15th century have been heavily debated for the Amazon Basin. In summary, two controversial hypotheses have been proposed: the “pristine landscape hypothesis” in which Amazonia was populated by small groups of hunter-gatherers, versus the “garden landscape hypothesis”, in which large and well developed societies practised intensive agriculture. The Bolivian Amazon, the so called “Llanos de Moxos”, is especially well suited to contribute to this controversy, because of the huge amount of anthropogenic earthworks it hosts. These earthworks were built by pre-Columbians since 2000 years ago. In our former SNF-project (2009-2012) we studied a great part of these pre-Columbian earthworks. They are unevenly distributed throughout the Llanos de Moxos, mainly depending on (former) environmental conditions like Upper Holocene fluvial morphodynamics and inundation history.

In the present project, we want to expand and deepen these first results. One focus will be on the productive strategies of the pre-Columbians and possible influences on soil fertility. A second focus will be on the earlier times of the Holocene: are there indications of even older human presence and what did the landscape of the Llanos de Moxos look like at the time of the first pre-ceramic settlers?

Methodologically, focus 1 will be studied by excavating pre-Columbian raised fields and comparing their soil characteristics with uninfluenced soils. For focus 2 we need to include the study of shell middens and lacustrine sediments, by analysing different geoarchaeological, sedimentological, geochemical and paleobotanical aspects, in order to reconstruct the paleo-environmental and human evolution.

As a general result, we expect to contribute to a better understanding of human-environmental interactions during the Holocene. This may help for discussing modern scenarios of land-use planning and conservation policies in the Amazon Basin.

Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 21.02.2013

Responsible applicant and co-applicants

Employees

Publications

Publication
Geomorphology and evolution of the late Pleistocene to Holocene fluvial system in the south-eastern Llanos de Moxos, Bolivian Amazon
Plotzki A. J.H. May F. Preusser B. Roesti S. Denier U. Lombardo H. Veit (2015), Geomorphology and evolution of the late Pleistocene to Holocene fluvial system in the south-eastern Llanos de Moxos, Bolivian Amazon, in Catena, 127, 102-115.
Soil properties and pre-Colombian settlement patterns in the Monumental Mounds Region of the Llanos de Moxos, Bolivian Amazon
Lombardo U. S. Denier H. Veit (2015), Soil properties and pre-Colombian settlement patterns in the Monumental Mounds Region of the Llanos de Moxos, Bolivian Amazon, in SOIL, 1(1), 65-81.
Neotectonics, flooding patterns and landscape evolution in southern Amazonia
Lombardo Umberto (2014), Neotectonics, flooding patterns and landscape evolution in southern Amazonia, in Earth Surface Dynamics, 2(2), 493-511.
Quantitative morphometric analysis of lakes using GIS: rectangularity R, ellipticity E, orientation O and the rectangularity vs ellipticity index, REi
Lombardo U. (2014), Quantitative morphometric analysis of lakes using GIS: rectangularity R, ellipticity E, orientation O and the rectangularity vs ellipticity index, REi, in Cartograhy and Geographic Information Science, 1-8.
The origin of oriented lakes: evidence from the Bolivian Amazon
Lombardo Umberto, Veit Heinz (2014), The origin of oriented lakes: evidence from the Bolivian Amazon, in Geomorphology, 204, 502-509.
Early and Middle Holocene Hunter-Gatherer Occupations in Western Amazonia: The Hidden Shell Middens
Lombardo Umberto, Szabo K., Caprilles J.M., May J.-H., Amelung W., Hutterer R., Lehndorff E., Plotzki A., Veit H. (2013), Early and Middle Holocene Hunter-Gatherer Occupations in Western Amazonia: The Hidden Shell Middens, in PLoS ONE, 8(8), e72746.
Geomorphological and sedimentary evidence for late Pleistocene to Holocene hydrological change along the Río Mamoré, Bolivian Amazon
Plotzki A., May J.H., Preusser F., Veit H. (2013), Geomorphological and sedimentary evidence for late Pleistocene to Holocene hydrological change along the Río Mamoré, Bolivian Amazon, in Journal of South American Earth Sciences, 47, 230-242.
Human-environment interactions in pre-Colombian Amazonia: The case of the Llanos de Moxos, Boliva
Lombardo Umberto, Denier Sebastian, May Jan-Hendrik, Rodrigues Leonor, Veit Heinz (2013), Human-environment interactions in pre-Colombian Amazonia: The case of the Llanos de Moxos, Boliva, in Quaternary International, 312, 109-119.
Geoecological Settings as a Driving Factor behind Pre-Colombian Human Occupation Patterns in Bolivian Amazonia
Lombardo Umberto, May Jan-Hendrik, Veit Heinz, Geoecological Settings as a Driving Factor behind Pre-Colombian Human Occupation Patterns in Bolivian Amazonia, in eTopoi, 3, 123-129.
Pre-Colombian agriculture in the Bolivian Lowlands: Construction history and management of raised fields in Bermeo
Rodrigues Leonor, U. Lombardo S. Fehr F. Preusser H. Veit, Pre-Colombian agriculture in the Bolivian Lowlands: Construction history and management of raised fields in Bermeo, in Catena.

Collaboration

Group / person Country
Types of collaboration
Geoscience Department Fribourg Switzerland (Europe)
- Research Infrastructure
Palynology and Paleoecology Lab (PALAB) at the Botanical Institute of Barcelona (CSIC-ICUB) Spain (Europe)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
- Publication
- Research Infrastructure
Washington University - Department of Anthropology United States of America (North America)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
- Publication
Institute of Geology University of Bern Switzerland (Europe)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
- Publication
- Research Infrastructure
Centre for Bio-Archeology and Ecology (CBAE, UMR 5059 CNRS) in Montpellier France (Europe)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
- Publication
Institut für Nutzpflanzenwissenschaften und Ressourcenschutz (INRES).- Bodenwissenschaften in Bonn Germany (Europe)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
- Publication
- Research Infrastructure

Scientific events

Active participation

Title Type of contribution Title of article or contribution Date Place Persons involved
Kolloquium Individual talk Landscape dynamics and paleoclimate from glacial periods to the Anthropocene 20.05.2015 Bern, Switzerland Veit Heinz;
Kolloquium Individual talk Pre-Colombian land use and environment in the Llanos de Moxos, Bolivian Amazon 20.04.2015 Bern, Switzerland Veit Heinz;
Land Cover Workshop Talk given at a conference 10 k years of human-environment interactions in southern Amazonia 18.02.2015 Paris, France Lombardo Umberto;
Historical Ecology in the New World Tropics Talk given at a conference Historical ecology versus environmental determinism: one oversimplification against another? 23.06.2014 London, Great Britain and Northern Ireland Lombardo Umberto;
Rethinking the Andes-Amazonas Divide: A Cross-Disciplinary Conspectus Talk given at a conference Changing paleo-environmental contexts since first settlement of South America 16.06.2014 Leipzig, Germany Lombardo Umberto;
EGEA -Western Regional Conference Talk given at a conference Changing environments and human adaptions in the pre-Colombian Amazon 26.05.2014 Sigriswil, Switzerland Veit Heinz;
Swiss Geoscience Meeting Talk given at a conference Understanding pre-colombian environmental adaptions strategies in agriculture 26.05.2014 Fribourg, Switzerland Gondim Rodrigues Leonor; Lombardo Umberto; Veit Heinz;
EGU Talk given at a conference Raised fields in the Llanos de Moxos, Boliva 26.05.2014 Wien, Austria Gondim Rodrigues Leonor; Lombardo Umberto; Veit Heinz;
96th SAA Annual Meeting Talk given at a conference The paleoenvironments and daptive strategies of the first Amazonian hunter-gatherers 26.05.2014 Austin, United States of America Lombardo Umberto; Veit Heinz;
Tracing cultivation: Human manipulation and management of plants Talk given at a conference Agricultural landscapes and social complexity: the case of the Llanos de Moxos 07.04.2014 Barcelona, Spain Lombardo Umberto;
Geographische Gesellschaft Bern Individual talk Bevor Kolumbus kam: Prähistorische Landnutzung und Umweltentwicklung im bolivianischen Amazonasgebiet 07.01.2014 Bern, Switzerland Veit Heinz;
Kolloquium Individual talk Geo-arqueologia en la Amazonia Boliviana: un cuento de 10 mil anos que empieza con los conchales de cazadores recolectores y acaba con las lomas monumentales 04.08.2013 La Paz, Bolivia Lombardo Umberto;
Kolloquium Individual talk Geoarcheologia en la Amazonia Boliviana 05.06.2013 Barcelona, Spain Lombardo Umberto;
Kolloquium Individual talk Human-environment interactions during the Holocene in the Bolivian Amazon 23.05.2013 Cambridge, Great Britain and Northern Ireland Lombardo Umberto;
11th Swiss Geoscience Meeting Talk given at a conference An insight into the morphology of pre-Columbian raised fields in different landscapes in the Llanos de Moxos, Bolivia 01.05.2013 Lausanne, Switzerland Gondim Rodrigues Leonor; Veit Heinz;
11th Swiss Geoscience Meeting Talk given at a conference Mid to late Holocene environmental change in the Bolivian Amazon reconstructed from paleosols and archaeological sites 01.05.2013 Lausanne, Switzerland Lombardo Umberto;
EGU Talk given at a conference The paleo-environment of the first early-Holocene inhabitants of the Bolivian Amazon 07.04.2013 Wien, Austria Veit Heinz; Lombardo Umberto;
EGU Poster Pre-Colombian agriculture: construfction history of raised fields in Bermeo, Bolivian Lowlands 02.04.2013 Wien, Austria Gondim Rodrigues Leonor; Lombardo Umberto; Veit Heinz;
Kolloquium Individual talk Bevor Kolumbus kam: prähistorische Landnutzung und Umweltentwicklung im bolivianischen Amazonasgebiet 17.01.2013 Luzern, Switzerland Veit Heinz;
Geographisches Kolloquium Individual talk Bevor Kolumbus kam: Prähistorische Landnutzung und Umweltentwicklung im bolivianischen Amazonasgebeit 08.11.2012 München, Germany Veit Heinz;
Annual Symposium IGCP 582-Tropical Rivers Talk given at a conference Two possible scenarios behind the mid-Holocene Río Grande distal fan formation - Bolivian Amazon 08.08.2012 Iquitos, Peru Lombardo Umberto; Veit Heinz;
2nd International Landscape Archaeology Conference Talk given at a conference Geoecological settings as a driving factor genhind precolombian human occupation patterns in Bolivian Amazonia 06.07.2012 Berlin, Germany Lombardo Umberto; Veit Heinz;
2nd International Landscape Archaeology Conference Talk given at a conference Geoecological settings as a driving factor behind pre-Columbian human occupation patterns in Bolivian Amazonia 06.06.2012 Berlin, Germany, Germany Lombardo Umberto; Veit Heinz;


Knowledge transfer events

Active participation

Title Type of contribution Date Place Persons involved
Abendvortrag Gletschergarten Luzern 17.01.2013 Luzern, Switzerland Veit Heinz;
Kolloquium Geographisches Institut der Universität München 08.11.2012 München, Germany Veit Heinz;
Arqueology of the cultural landscapes of the Llanos de Moxos and their environmental context 13.08.2012 Trinidad, Bolivien, Bolivia Lombardo Umberto;


Associated projects

Number Title Start Funding scheme
154199 Reconstructing the Bolivian Amazon‘s paleo-environment through phytolith analysis 01.02.2014 International short research visits
67937 Paleoclimate of tropical South America: linking Andean highlands (Bolivia) with adjacent lowlands (Bolivia, Brazil) 01.01.2003 Project funding (Div. I-III)
122289 Holocene hydrogeomorphology and pre-Colombian water management in the Llanos de Moxos, Bolivian Amazon 01.04.2009 Project funding (Div. I-III)
105228 Paläoökologie von Ostbolivien 01.01.2005 Project funding (Div. I-III)

Abstract

The current project proposal is designed as a continuation of our SNF project 200021 - 1222. The research focuses on human-environment interactions during the Holocene in the southern Amazon Basin.Within the SNF project 200021 - 1222 we have reconstructed the mid to late Holocene fluvial dynamics of the south-eastern LM and highlighted the links between fluvial dynamics and pre-Columbian settlement patterns there; we have put forward a new interpretative model for pre-Columbian agricultural earthworks; and we have discovered late Pleistocene/early Holocene shell middens, which could represent the oldest archaeological sites in central and south Amazonia. Our results suggest that the periods of human presence in the LM and the levels of social complexity reached by the pre-Columbian inhabitants were closely linked to environmental changes that took place during the Holocene. However, new questions have arisen as a result of our findings that need to be addressed in order to fully understand the history of the LM during the Holocene. These will be the focus of the proposed project:What did the landscape of the LM look like during the early-Holocene at the time of the first pre-ceramic settlers? What kind of impact did the first settlers have on the environment? Which were the causes of the environmental changes that took place during the mid-Holocene? Which were the productive strategies employed by pre-Columbians in the late Holocene? How did pre-Columbian agriculture change soil properties? In order to address these questions we need to supplement the data we already have with more data from paleoecological archives that we have not yet investigated or we have only just started to investigate. Therefore, the present project includes the analysis of lacustrine sediments, the archaeological excavations of early Holocene shell middens and a detailed analysis of soils and sediments from sites with agricultural earthworks. Pollen and charcoal analysis from lacustrine sediments will help to reconstruct the environment of the LM during the Holocene, detect possible evidence of human fire and/or deforestation during the early and mid-Holocene and will provide the essential data needed to assess the impact pre-Columbian agriculture had on forests and savannahs. Geoarchaeological excavations of the shell middens are likely to lead to the finding of human artefacts, hence the definitive proof that they are anthropogenic; the excavation of soil profiles at several pre-Columbian agricultural sites and at reference sites with “natural” soil will allow us to reconstruct how agricultural fields were managed and to understand the reasons behind the large variety of shapes and locations.The study of human-environment interactions is fundamental to the correct interpretation of palaeoecological archives. These data are also important in order to assess the possible influence that post-contact re-forestation had on global climate and the resilience of Amazon ecosystems to human disturbance, as well as help inform development and conservation policies for the Amazon Basin today.
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