Writing about Çatalhöyük has led me to do some other reading, which led me to the Llanos de Moxos of the Beni in Bolivia. It’s amazing: a massive culture that stretched around the size of the Midwest of America but that not too many people talk about.
There’s also an interesting article on Kenneth Lee, who discovered the Llanos de Moxos while working as a Shell geologist/wildcatter. It’s an interesting tale of a lifelong obsession. My brother would love it: he’s a bit of the type and would probably give his eye teeth to go there and see these giant causeways and raised fields. Lee dedicated his life to these massive earthworks he saw from the air. He dedicated himself to documenting these works and speculating about how a great culture, almost as big as the region’s current population, could have existed in the Amazon basin, with its very poor soils and rough conditions. His speculations have been shown to work, in the present if not the past. Very interesting story about one man who decided to change the world around him by bringing the wisdom of the past into the present.
The same site has another article (different version) on. Unfortunately, word never really got out as to what the findings were that came out of the local region:
In 1975, Kenneth was able to convince the Chilean archeaologist Victor Bustos to come visit the Beni for a few weeks. Victor stayed for two years…. With time Victor did see more and more and by the time he left the Beni he had collected substantial quantities of potshards and pots among other things. The potshards were left with the University in Trinidad and a few years later a rector that didn’t know their value sent the workers to lay the shards down on the paths around campus like gravel. You can still find them there.
These potshards may have lasted over 2000 years in the soil, only to be used as gravel.
So it goes.
One of the most interesting findings that is not mentioned in these articles on Lee is the Dark Earth found in the Amazon. This soil not only is incredibly fertile (think potting soil) but it regenerates itself. People in the region “harvest” only so many centimeters of it a year for their fields. The next year, those centimeters will return. This mysterious South American culture (mysterious only because not that many people want to study it) may have terraformed a chunk of the Amazon the size of France. This during a time when European agriculture could barely get wheat to grow.
I’m unfortunately quite fascinated by the agricultural and animal husbandry techniques of the native American peoples. We think of America as needing to return to the wild times before the Whites came over, willfully ignoring that the native peoples, who may have numbered in the millions, had been managing the land for thousands of years. When the first whites traveled through the Ohio valley, they said that you could drive a wagon in-between the trees. One hundred years later (and after 90% of the native population had died of smallpox, chickpox, influenza, and other common European diseases that were unknown in the Americas) travellers could barely get past all the thick undergrowth. The native peoples in the Americas (the mound culture?) had been strategically burning to keep the undergrowth at bay. The “let’s return this plot to nature” seem to not understand that mankind has systematically managed most of the Americas for thousands of years. We can’t return to a “pre-man” state because we’d have to go back 20,000 years and get the ice age to return.
Of course, we may be working on the return of the ice age…..
Nature had a report on Clark Erickson’s discovery of the Llanos de Mojos fishing weirs. Apparently, this ancient people created ponds to farm fish. And we think we’re so smart.