Earthmovers of the Amazon: & An Artificial Landscape-Scale Fishery in the Bolivian Amazon

Posted by Chris Parker
Jul 01 2005

by Charles C. Mann

“Are the mounds, causeways, and canals in Bolivia’s Beni region natural formations or the result of 2000 years’ labor by lost societies?”

TRINIDAD, BOLIVIA—In some ways, William Denevan says today, he didn’t know what he was getting into when he decided to write his Ph.D. thesis about the Beni, a remote, nearly uninhabited, and almost roadless department in the Bolivian Amazon. Located between the Andes Mountains and the river Guaporé (a major Amazon tributary), the Beni spends half the year parched in near-desert conditions and the other half flooded by rain and snowmelt.

But it wasn’t until he made his first research trip there, in 1961, that Denevan realized the area was filled with earthworks that oil company geologists—the only scientists in the are—believed to be ruins of an unknown civilization.

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One Response

  1. sim says:

    Saw a discovery channel documentary on this. I think the most interesting thing was a young researcher, was experimenting with growing corn in the soil there. I guess the soil is basically, nutrient free, so nothing grows well, if at all. What this guy had found was that by adding charcoal into the soil, the corn was growing as if someone had dropped a gallon of miracle grow on them. He also found that once this charcoal is added it seemed to be almost self sustaining in keeping the soil viable for growing. Just as a clarification, this charcoal has been found in almost all of the raised “roads”, indicating that the “amazonians” knew their agriculture… I guess you would expect that just about every culture prior to about 1950, also. One last thing, a group of dirt merchants have been collecting and selling this charcoal filled amazon dirt for about the last 20 years, as it is prized for it increasing the yield of crops.

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