Raised fields of Amapá, Northern Brazil – an investigation of a pre-Columbian agricultural system

Theme: Past Life & Environments

Primary Supervisor:

Manuel Arroyo-Kalin

Archaeology, UCL

Manuel Arroyo-Kalin's Profile Picture

Secondary Supervisor:

Dorian Fuller

Archaeology, UCL

Dorian Fuller's Profile Picture

Project Description:

Raised fields systems of the Neotropical humid lowlands are pre-Columbian complexes of earthen platforms that bear witness to past agricultural practices in multiple seasonally flooded regions of South America. Their presence, age, and morphology raise significant questions that bear directly on current understandings of pre-Columbian societies: What was their exact function(s) (e.g. water drainage, nutrient improvement, associated fishing)? How were they maintained (e.g. fire-free cultivation, green manuring, fallowing)? What crops were cultivated and how? How productive and resilient were they as productive agroecosystems? And, how have they been transformed since their abandonment? To these questions may be added the need to establish more precisely their overall chronology and link their presence to specific pre-Columbian cultural groups. The proposed project seeks to tackle these questions by investigating relict pre-Columbian raised fields system found in the state of Amapá, Brazil. The project will undertake fieldwork in this region, including landscape survey (with drone reconnaissance and field walking), and field sampling of selected raised fields. Laboratory analysis of collected samples will involve geoarchaeological, archaeobotanical, dating, and artefactual analyses to reconstruct the formation of raised fields within the context of the broader landscape and environmental history.

Policy Impact of Research:

By expanding understandings of how raised fields were designed and managed during pre-Columbian times, the project will help distil models of community-scale plant cultivation that could be employed in this and other tropical regions. By discussing the extent to which these relict features can be associated to agricultural intensification, results will bear on discussions of the extent of human impact in pre-Columbian Amazonia


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