Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Amazonian Fire and the Little Ice Age

Fire in the savanna north of the Yacuma River (photo by John Walker)

Here is an article by Robert Dull, Richard Nevle, William Woods, Dennis Bird, Shiri Avnery and William Denevan that argues for a connection between the large scale depopulation of the Amazon after 1492, and the well-known climatic phenomenon called the Little Ice Age in Northern Europe during the 16th through the 19th centuries (more or less). The link in this argument is the idea that pre-Columbian Amazonians had cleared large parts of the forests of the Amazon Basin, and when their populations plummeted after contact with Europeans, the Amazon Basin vegetation grew tremendously, which had the effect of sequestering enough carbon to influence climate on a global scale. The authors don't claim that this depopulation caused the Little Ice Age, but they do see it as an important cause.

Monday, February 18, 2013

World Wetlands Day in Bolivia

World Wetlands Day was celebrated in Bolivia on February 2nd, an event that was marked by the designation of three separate wetlands within Mojos on the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands list. The Ramsar Convention is an international agreement to designate and promote the "conservation and wise use" of wetlands around the world. It is good to see the government of Bolivia showing interest in the environment of the Beni as a positive good; I think that it's fair to say that this was not always the case, but this is a hopeful development.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Quinoa in Bolivia

Realizing that I am quite late to the discussion, I wanted to highlight a recent post (which inclues many more published stories) about quinoa production in Bolivia and Peru, and quinoa consumption in the US and Europe. Quinoa is a delicious and nutritious crop, and appeals to vegetarians (for example) because it provides a large amount of diverse proteins. It's a good thing to eat if you are not eating meat. Clare Sammels brings together several of the recent articles, and points out that what people think about quinoa and the Bolivians who grow it doesn't have a lot to do with quinoa or Bolivians, but does have a lot to do with how people in the US and Europe think about those subjects. Also, if we want to know more about what Bolivian farmers think about quinoa, the best way to find out would be to ask them.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Reading about monuments

I am reading Early New World Monumentality, a book edited by Richard L. Burger and Robert M. Rosenswig, which has good coverage from around the Americas, although there are perhaps more from South America. I have found each of the chapters I have read to be very useful. The idea I want to examine in my own work is that monumentality is best considered as an independent phenomenon, a point that is brought up explicitly in the editor’s introduction, by at least one of the papers (the chapter by Sassaman and Randall on shell mounds in Central Florida) and implicitly in the range of interpretations that the various authors put forward.
If monumentality can be recognized in the archaeological record as constructions that are “over engineered” or made larger or more elaborate than they need to be, then it would seem that monumentality comes in many different varieties, and in association with many different attributes. That is to say, monumentality varies independently from other kinds of social, political and cultural factors. Reflecting on the pioneering work of Renfrew with monuments in Neolithic England, Rosenswig and Burger show how easily circular reasoning can seep into archaeological interpretation. Sassaman and Randall’s chapter documents their work with very early monumental architecture on the St. John’s in Florida, and advances an interesting interpretation relating these monuments to societies with dual social organization, based on ceramics and spatial analyses.