Far from pristine: what lesson can Amazonian archaeology teach to world archaeology?
爱德华·奈维斯 Eduardo Neves
(巴西圣保罗大学 University of São Paulo)
从2009年起，我把大部分的田野研究从亚马逊中部地区转移到位于玻利维亚和巴西边境的亚马逊西南部地区。造成这种变化的原因有两方面。首先，之前有证据表明，该地区的考古记录跨越了整个全新世，这为了解该地区景观转变的长期过程提供了一个有利的机会。第二是因为这个地区现在被认为是世界上独立的植物驯化中心之一。亚马逊西南部是一个主要的初级和次级植物驯化中心。作为初级驯化中心，遗传资料显示，桃树棕(Bactris gasipaes) 和树薯(Manihot esculenta)以及一些不同种类的花生(Arachis hypogea)、红辣椒(Capsicum baccatum)、芋艿 (Xanthosoma spp)和胭脂木(Bixa orellana) 最初都是在这里种植的。直接的考古证据显示了水稻(Oriza glumepatula)的种植始于公元前2200年，兰花蕉(Calathea allouia)、巴西胡桃(Bertolethia excelsa) 和番石榴(Psidium guajava) 的种植则始于全新世早期(Watling et al. 2018)。次级中心的作用是由遗传数据证实的，多个玉米品种从中美洲引进南美洲后在此处发展，随后在6000年前传到南美洲低地。根据语言和语系推断，亚马逊西南地区也是一个主要的文化多样性中心。大亚马逊地区是现代世界语言多样性最丰富的地区之一，大约有300种语言被归为50个不同的“系谱单位”，这些“系谱单位”可能是残余语系，也可能是孤立的语言。仅在亚马逊西南地区，就有超过50种语言，其中11种是孤立的，其余的分为8个语系。
特奥托尼奥是一个多元素的遗址，文化堆积达400厘米深(图为特奥托尼奥)，位于亚马逊河最大的支流马德拉河南岸。在那里的工作使我们发现了最早的人为黑色土壤，可以追溯到公元前3500年。但是人类活动的痕迹可以追溯到公元前7000年。结合早期黑色土壤的证据，我们的研究已经辨认出至少7种不同的文化因素，其中2种与全新世早期和全新世中期的石器工业有关，5种与不同的陶器文化组合有关。我们的工作还证明了一个至少可以追溯到公元前3500年的植物管理过程，包括培育兰花蕉(Calathea allouia)、巴西坚果(Bertolethia excelsa)和番石榴(Psidium guajava) 等品种。
蒙特卡斯特罗是一个河漫滩上的贝丘遗址，位于瓜波雷河洪泛区周期性泛滥的稀树草原上(图为蒙特卡斯特罗遗址)。该遗址是一个6米高、160米长的人工椭圆形平台，始建于大约公元前5000年，一直使用到公元前2000年。该遗址在20世纪80年代被发掘，然后在2013年被我们重新发掘。贝丘中的碳酸盐使得蒙特卡斯特罗遗址成为一个具有特殊保存条件的深层分层遗址，有机物得以保存，包括公元前2200年左右的人类墓葬。我们在那里仍在进行的研究成为了迄今为止水稻(Oriza glumepatula) 在美洲驯化的唯一证据。
The study of Amazonian biomes and their peoples have an important role in the development of modern science. Since the early eighteenth century, with Charles de la Condamine, western scholars have roamed the tropics in search for answers to deeper questions such as the emergence of biological diversity. On the other hand, tropical rainforests have retained, over the years, an image of being pristine environments scarcely occupied by humans over the millennia. Such perspectives translate into modern public policies for the occupations of these areas, frequently with large social and ecological problems.
In the early sixteenth century AD, when Europeans arrived in South America, they were confronted in the Andean highlands by centralized and hierarchical societies such as the Inka Empire. The evidence of monumental architecture, also abundant in the Andes and in the desert coast of the Pacific Ocean, was likewise employed to establish a picture of the ancient history of South America that remain strong until the present: the notion that the arid Pacific coast and the Andean highlands were cradles for civilization, whereas the tropical lowlands had a peripheral role in the human occupation of the continent.
Such perspective was further reinforced by the hypothesis that the ecological conditions of the humid tropics would be inimical to the establishment of large, sedentary and permanent settlements in the past. According to such view, environmental factors such as lack of terrestrial animal protein or the widespread distribution of nutrient-poor soils would impose a ceiling with strong limitations for human occupation and prevent the establishment of long-term and stable occupations.
In the last years research done in the Amazon has contributed to change this picture, and my own work has had a role in such criticism. It is becoming clear that the Amazon was densely settled at the time of the arrival of the Europeans and that the societies that lived there displayed a wide variety of patterns of social and political organization. If, in the Andean past, rocks were widely used as raw materials for monumental architecture, in the Amazon soils filled the role of construction (Figure 1). As a consequence, only recently archaeologists have recognized that ditches, channels, earthworks, mounds covered by the forest were built by ancient Amazonians. Such new evidence shows that the Amazon was also a cradle for early cultural developments but that its ancient societies had different histories than expected by previous hypotheses. There is, therefore, room for new theories away from traditional classificatory typologies as well as a new synthesis of world archaeology that incorporates such recent developments.
My contribution to transform the traditional perspectives on Amazonian archaeology stems from my own direct engagement with long-term field projects in the area. I have also advised more than 30 Masters and PhDs students over these years. In the early 1990s, when I was starting graduate school, there were very few people interested in Amazonian archaeology. Therefore, when I designed my PhD research to do archaeology with the Tukanoan Indians in Northwestern Amazon, I had to start a project from scratch without the support of large field crews. When I started, I was not so sure whether this was the best decision for me, but it was the only choice for those few willing to work in the Amazon at the time.
One of the shortcomings of working alone in a place where virtually no archaeology has been done within a radius of several hundred kilometers is that one needs to start from scratch: there is no available chronologies, no sites mapped, no settlement pattern data and no, or very small, crews of trained archaeologists to work with. In Northwestern Amazonia, with no roads, travelling is done by boat or on foot, delays are common, and one has to be flexible with schedules, goals and targets. On the other hand, the possibility to work with the Tukanoans, and to engage with their superior intelligence and their refined sense of humor presented a unique experience.
From 1995 to 2010, I co-directed with Michael Heckenberger and James Petersen on the Central Amazon Project, where several large sites were, for the first time, excavated over multiyear field seasons and involved the participation of students and professionals from Brazil and abroad (Figure 2). Most of the field seasons were associated with field schools, allowing for the training of a whole generation of young Brazilian and foreign archaeologists. From 1999 to 2000, I supervised directly or indirectly 8 field schools in the Central Amazon. The smallest in 1999, had 11 people, and the largest, in 2007, had 57. Many of the students that went through these field schools are currently working in faculties at Universities in Brazil, the US and UK and have organized field schools themselves as well.
The most important scientific achievement of my research in the Central Amazon was the systematic mapping and excavation of several sites with matrixes composed by dark and highly fertile soils known as terras pretas or Anthropic Dark Earths (ADEs) (Figure 3). Their productivity, almost neutral pH and stability contrasts with the normally lixiviated and acidic soils found in this vast area. Although ADEs are known since the nineteenth century, only recently their association with past human activities was accepted. Accordingly, their widespread distribution provides some of the best evidence that Amazonian biomes have been modified by past Indigenous peoples and thus falsifies the idea that there are fixed environmental constraints that prevented long-term human occupation. We were able to show that ADEs developed as results of a overall process of social change that happened across the Amazon from ca. 500 BCE onwards, although there is earlier localized evidence of the production of such soils (Figure 4).
Since 2009, I transitioned from field research in the Central Amazon to Southwestern Amazonia, located at the current border between the countries of Bolivia and Brazil. The reasons for such change were twofold: First, there is previous evidence that the archaeological record of this area spans the whole Holocene, providing a unique window into the long-term process of landscape transformations there. Second, this area is accepted today as one of the independent centers of plant domestication in the world. Southwestern Amazonia was both a major primary and secondary center of plant domestication. As a primary center, genetic data shows that the Peach Palm (Bactris gasipaes) and manioc (Manihot esculenta) as well as some varieties of peanuts (Arachis hypogea), chilli peppers (Capsicum baccatum), cocoyam (Xanthosoma spp), and anatto (Bixa orellana) were initially cultivated there. Direct archaeological evidence shows the cultivation of rice (Oriza glumepatula) around 2,200 BCE, as well as ariá or lerén (Calathea allouia), Brazil nuts (Bertolethia excelsa) and guava (Psidium guajava) by the early Holocene. The role of secondary center is attested by genetic data showing that varieties of maize were developed there after being introduced from Mesoamerica and later spreading through lowland South America 6,000 years ago (Figure 5). Southwestern Amazonia is also a major center for cultural diversity as inferred by languages and language families. Language diversity in greater Amazonia is among the highest recorded in the modern world, with around 300 languages grouped into 50 distinct ‘genealogical units’ of either relict language families or isolated languages. In Southwestern Amazonia alone, there are more than 50 languages, 11 of them isolated, and the remainder are grouped into 8 families.
My work in Southwestern Amazonia involves multiple projects. I have been conducting long-term excavations at two sites, Teotonio and Monte Castelo, both with records of human occupation spanning most of the Holocene. I have also been mapping excavations of late Holocene sites associated with mounds and a network of linear roads in Acre state (Figure 6).
Teotonio is a multicomponent site with cultural deposits reaching 400 cm deep. The site is located on the southern bank of the Madeira river, the largest tributary of the Amazon. Archaeological work there has led us to identify the earliest record of ADE dating to 3,500 BCE, but the record of human occupation extends further back to ca. 7,000 BCE (Figure 7). Together with the evidence of early ADEs, our research has identified at least 7 different cultural components, 2 of them associated with the early and middle Holocene lithic industries, and 5 of them associated with different ceramic complexes. The site also showed evidence of plant management that goes back to at least 3,500 BCE and included cultivars such by ariá or lerén (Calathea allouia), Brazil nuts (Bertolethia excelsa) and guava (Psidium guajava).
Monte Castelo is a fluvial shell mound located in a periodically flooded savanna at the floodplains of the Guaporé River. The site is an artificial oval platform measuring 6 m tall and 160 m long that was built around 5,000 BCE and mostly occupied until 2,000 BCE. Monte Castelo was previously excavated in the 1980s, then relocated by us in 2013. Due to the carbonates in the shell matrix, Monte Castelo is a deeply stratified site with exceptional conditions for preservation, allowing for well-preserved organics including human burials dating back to ca. 2,200 BCE (Figure 8). Our ongoing research there has documented what is so far the only evidence of rice (Oriza glumepatula) domestication in the Americas.
My research in Eastern Acre focuses on a more recent time period, dating to the beginning of the first millennium CE. This is an area where present-day deforestation has revealed hundreds of sites composed of geometric earthworks as well as groups of mounds found around central plazas (Figure 9). Our work there has shown that such mounded sites were connected by networks of linear roads that cut across areas believed to have been a pristine forest until 40 years ago. Associated archaeobotanical and paleoecological research aim to uncover the forms of landscape transformation associated with the road and mound construction there.
The central focus of my research has always been the understanding of the deep and ancient connections between indigenous people and the environment in the Amazon. The results so far have been unexpected and most challenging: we have evidence of early plant domestication but also of widespread cultivation of non-domesticated plants throughout the millennia, we found highly fertile Anthropic Dark Earths but it looks like their initial formation was not associated to deliberate actions to improve soil fertility, we see the constitution through time of networks of sites connected by roads built within the forest but not associated with large scale deforestation. These results do not match the accepted narratives formed by archaeology in the last century. Such narratives would leave places such as the Amazon in a marginal role for human evolution. Twenty years ago, I would look at the results of my research and interpret them as lack of sound procedures in the field or laboratory, as if we were doing something wrong. Nowadays, Amazonian archaeology is becoming an internationalized area of knowledge, with local scholars taking up an important role in this field. I believe that the data we are uncovering will lead to the development of new ideas in archaeology, and call into question concepts such as “Neolithic”, “domestication” and “urban”. Such data also challenges ancient notions of development and progress that regarded tropical areas as marginal places in human history. These perspectives became naturalized and transformed into public policies with catastrophic consequences for traditional societies and the environment. Archaeology has the power to denaturalize these perspectives and show they are essentially political.
Archaeology is going through exciting times. As the discipline becomes more diversified and decentralized, alternative perspectives on the past are presented. I believe that today we are doing more meaningful research than ever before, and I am glad to be part of this movement.
Eduardo Goes Neves is a Professor of Brazilian Archaeology at the Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at the University of Sao Paulo (MAE-USP), Brazil. He received his B.A. in History from the University of Sao Paulo, Brazil and his M.A. and his Ph.D. in Anthropology from Indiana University, USA. He is a former President of the Brazilian Archaeological Society and served at the Board of Directors of the Society for American Archaeology. He has been visiting professor at the University of the Province of Buenos Aires, Argentina, the Polytechnic Institute of Guayaquil, Ecuador, the National Museum of Natural History, in Paris, and the Department of Anthropology at Harvard University, in Archaeology. He has more than 100 publications and has advised more than 30 Masters theses and PhD dissertations.