Sacred Geographies of Ancient Amazonia: Historical Ecology of Social Complexity, 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

Sacred Geographies of Ancient Amazonia

Historical Ecology of Social Complexity, 1st Edition

By Denise P Schaan


233 pages

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The legendary El Dorado—the city of gold—remains a mere legend, but astonishing new discoveries are revealing a major civilization in ancient Amazonia that was more complex than anyone previously dreamed. Scholars have long insisted that the Amazonian ecosystem placed severe limits on the size and complexity of its ancient cultures, but leading researcher Denise Schaan reverses that view, synthesizing exciting new evidence of large-scale land and resource management to tell a new history of indigenous Amazonia. Schaan also engages fundamental debates about the development of social complexity and the importance of ancient Amazonia from a global perspective. This innovative, interdisciplinary book is a major contribution to the study of human-environment relations, social complexity, and past and present indigenous societies.


"Schaan's research in varied parts of the Brazilian Amazon is groundbreaking in the application of state-of-the-art methods and inspiring in terms of its theoretical relevance and insight. Here she brings her diverse experience to bear on the question of sacred geographies which linked groups across the vast tropical lowlands and were critical features in the organization of the region's little known civilizations."--Michael Heckenberger, University of Florida

"Historical ecological approaches have made important contributions, dispelling the myth that the environment constitutes an objective reality transcending the social context of its production and experience. At the same time, this perspective is equally critical of theories that reduce landscapes to a cultural construction and ignore the agency of meaningful places. Inspired by this approach, Schaan (Federal State Univ. of Pari, Brazil) has written an engaging study of the anthropogenic landscapes of the pre-Columbian Amazon, focusing on the development of the mound centers of the Marajoara culture. The author compares prehistoric land management practices with similar traditions in other regions of the Amazon. Compiling available archaeological data, her analysis successfully debunks the commonplace belief that the Amazon represents a pristine environment, and it provides a convincing reconstruction of the anthropogenically dynamic and diverse landscapes of the Amazonian Basin. Schaan further examines the intersection of managed ecology with Marajoara funerary rites, ancestor worship, social memory, and cosmology and devotes a chapter interpreting the remarkable geoglyphs of the western Amazonian region. The author concludes her study with a pointed critique of government development programs that disregard indigenous knowledge and ecological stewardship. For students of Amazonian archaeology and scholars interested in human-environment relations. Summing Up: Recommended."--CHOICE

"The conclusion of [this] remarkable work, demonstrat[es] how human agency is such a transformative force in the Amazonian landscape since ancient times. Schaan shows us that for an extensive time the indigenous peoples in the Amazon have achieved landscape management through massive earthworks, fish farming, and plant domestication. Through ethnoarchaeology, Schaan also demonstrates that the indigenous peoples today are an important factor in maintaining the Amazon forest for the future. Today the impact of cattle ranching, mining activities, and dam construction in the deforestation of the Amazon is a reality, and such an important study like this can be the key to reveal that the symbiotic co-existence between humans and nature is indeed very old. See the full review:"--Diogo M. Costa, Anthropology Review Database

Table of Contents

1. Introduction: Historical Ecology and Archaeological Landscapes in Amazonia2. Moving Earth, Managing Water3. Land of the Ancestors4. Ponds, Lakes and Feats: The Cultural Geography of Anthropogenic Soils5. Marks on Earth: Territoriality and Memory6. ConclusionReferencesIndexAbout the Author

About the Series

New Frontiers in Historical Ecology

Dynamic new research in the genuinely interdisciplinary field of historical ecology is flourishing in restoration and landscape ecology, geography, forestry and range management, park design, biology, cultural anthropology, and anthropological archaeology. Historical ecology corrects the flaws of previous ecosystems and disequilibrium paradigms by constructing transdisciplinary histories of landscape and regions that recognize the significance of human activity and the power of all forms of knowledge. The preferred theoretical approach of younger scholars in many social and natural science disciplines, historical ecology is also being put into practice around the world by such organizations as UNESCO. The series fosters the next generation of scholars offering a sophisticated grasp of human-environmental interrelationships. The series editors invite proposals for cutting edge books that break new ground in theory or in the practical application of the historical ecology paradigm to contemporary problems.

Learn more…

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Anthropology / General