Was Agriculture a Key Productive Activity in Pre-Colonial Amazonia? The Stable Productive Basis for Social Equality in the Central Amazon

  • Eduardo Góes NevesEmail author
Part of the Human-Environment Interactions book series (HUEN, volume 1)


Despite a long-standing debate on its intensity and economic role, it has been generally assumed that swidden or extensive agriculture was an important economic component for Amazonian pre-colonial tropical forest societies. However, the available data do not back such a claim. In the central Amazon, the archaeological record shows that the establishment of sedentary societies in the area is quite recent, going back to no longer than 500 bc. Despite good conditions of preservation, so far, no evidence of manioc cultivation has been found during a record of 2,000 years of human occupation. In other areas such as Marajó Island, at the mouth of the Amazon, no evidence of agriculture whatsoever has been found so far, despite the presence of artificial earth mounds and elaborated pottery. Such evidence, when put together, suggests that although plant domestication may have been very ancient in the tropical lowlands, the advent of predominantly agricultural-based economies was much more recent. It is proposed here that agriculture was much more an opportunistic activity based on the intense and sophisticated management with stone axes of gardens and forest under different stages of ecological succession than the pattern of extensive cultivation with metal axes or chain saws of the large manioc gardens known today. If true, the hypotheses have as a corollary that the emergence of the pattern of extensive manioc-based agriculture typical of the tropical forest results from demographic and technological changes brought by the European conquest.


Agroforestry System Amazon Basin Archaeological Record Language Family Political Centralization 
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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Museu de Arqueologia e Etnologia, Av. Professor Almeida Prado, 1466Cidade UniversitáriaSão PauloBrazil

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