Amazon-dwellers lived sustainably for 5,000 years

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A study that dug into the history of the Amazon Rainforest has found that indigenous people lived there for millennia with “causing no detectable species losses or disturbances”.

Scientists working in Peru searched layers of soil for microscopic fossil evidence of human impact.

They found that forests were not “cleared, farmed, or otherwise significantly altered in prehistory”.

The research is published in the journal PNAS.

Dr Dolores Piperno, from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Balboa, Panama, who led the study, said the evidence could help shape modern conservation – revealing how people can live in the Amazon while preserving its incredibly rich biodiversity.

Dr Piperno’s discoveries also inform an ongoing debate about how much the Amazon’s vast, diverse landscape was shaped by indigenous people.

Some research has suggested the landscape was actively, intensively shaped by indigenous peoples before the arrival of Europeans in South America. Recent studies have even shown that the tree species that now dominates the forest was planted by prehistoric human inhabitants.

Dr Piperno told BBC News, the new findings provide evidence that the indigenous population’s use of the rainforest “was sustainable, causing no detectable species losses or disturbances, over millennia”.

To find that evidence, she and her colleagues carried out a kind of botanical archaeology – excavating and dating layers of soil to build a picture of the rainforest’s history. They examined the soil at three sites in a remote part of north-eastern Peru.


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