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Climate change had a significant impact on the people living in the Amazon rainforest before the arrival of Europeans and the loss of many indigenous groups, according to a study published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution.
The large changes in temperature and rainfall caused the disappearance of communities long before 1492, the researchers found. On the contrary, other cultures flourished just before the Spanish colonization of the Americas.
The new analysis of what was the climate in the Amazon from the year 700 to 1300 shows that climate change caused the end of communities They cultivated intensively and had a strong class structure. Those who lived without political hierarchy, cultivated a great variety of crops and paid more attention to caring for the land so that it would continue to be fertile, were able to adapt and were less affected.
During this time, the Amazon was home to dozens of sophisticated communities who lived in cities and towns that were flourishing. The conflict between these communities and migration also contributed to the downfall of some of them.
Jonas Gregorio de SouzaMarie Curie researcher at UPF who led the study, states: «Some Amazonian communities were in decline or had changed dramatically before 1492. Our research shows that climate change was one of the responsible factors, but some groups survived because they had been working for their natural environment and not against it. Those who cultivated intensively and had more pressure to produce surplus food due to a strong class structure were less able to cope with climate change.
The population of indigenous communities is believed to have declined by 90 to 95 percent after Europeans arrived in the Amazon due to epidemics and violence. Before that, up to 10 million people had lived in the Amazon, and this loss modified the landscapes and cultural geographies of the entire region.
Pollen, charcoal and sediments to know the climate of the past
The experts analyzed the climate of the ancient Amazon by analyzing the remains of pollen and charcoal, lake sediments and stalagmites. This allowed them to keep track of the amount of rainfall in the region from year to year.
They were also analyzed archaeological remains showing crops grown by communities in the past and the structures in which they lived.
In the eastern Amazon, the marajoara elite He lived on large mounds, which could have been home to about 2,000 people. These command organizations disintegrated after 1200.
This was thought to be due to the arrival of nomadic gatherers Aruã, but the study suggests that the decrease in rainfall also played an important role. Some communities used the mounds to manage water, with the rich monopolizing the resources. This made them sensitive to prolonged droughts.
At the same time, culture of Santarém, established around 1100, was flourishing. They grew a wide variety of crops: corn, sweet potato, zucchini, etc. and they worked to enrich the forest. This meant that drier weather conditions have less impact.
Experts have discovered that communities in the Amazon built canals to manage seasonal floods. In the southern Amazon, people fortified their ditches, walled plazas, causeways, and roads as the climate became more volatile.
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Professor José Iriarte, from the University of Exeter, states: “This study adds to the growing evidence that the millennium preceding the European discovery was a period of long-distance migration, conflict, disintegration of complex societies and social reorganization in the lowlands of South America. It shows that the weather had a real impact. '
The research, which is part of the Pre-Columbian Amazon-Scale Transformations project, funded by the European Research Council, was carried out by academics from the University of Exeter (led by Jonas Gregorio de Souza, currently at UPF), the Pennsylvania State University, Baylor University, the University of Bern, the University of Sao Paulo, the Geophysical Institute of Peru, the University of Northumbria, the Federal University of Pará, the National Center for Scientific Research of France, the University of Utah, the University of Reading and the University of Amsterdam.
Jonas Gregorio de Souza, Mark Robinson, S. Yoshi Maezumi, José Capriles, Julie A. Hoggarth, Umberto Lombardo, Valdir Felipe Novello, James Apaéstegui, Bronwen Whitney, Dunia Urrego, Daiana Travassos Alves, Stephen Rostain, Mitchell J. Power, Francis E. Mayle, Francisco William da Cruz Jr., Henry Hooghiemstra and José Iriarte ORCID: (June 2019). “Climate change and cultural resilience in late pre-Columbian Amazonia”. Nature Ecology and Evolution.