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The impact of early agricultural changes in Guyana

NSF Award:

Early Agriculture and Landscape Domestication along the Middle Berbice River, Guyana  (University of Florida)

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Archaeological research by Michael Heckenberger and colleagues at the University of Florida has shown that Native Americans were present in Guyana 6,000 years ago. Through archaeological survey and excavation, the archaeologists found ceremonial mounds and discovered that about 3,000 years ago, the inhabitants began to modify the landscape for agricultural purposes.  The researchers also discovered evidence that descendants of the Native Americans were in the region at the time of European contact.

Heckenberger's findings suggest that the region sustained human settlements over multiple millennia. This notion runs contrary to common 20th-century views that interior northeastern South America was only recently inhabited by farming populations. In addition, population density was likely higher in prehistoric than in historic times. In Amazonia, this has particular relevance to contemporary questions of sustainable land-use and climate change. To achieve successful long-term solutions to contemporary development, planners must adapt to specific ecological settings, and past strategies can provide potentially successful guides. 

By comparing findings at individual archaeological sites, archaeologists can derive more general principles about how societies develop. Guyana is one of the few tropical settings that show the transition from small egalitarian hunting and gathering groups to larger socially stratified agriculturally/pastorally based societies.

Images (1 of )

  • a section of the dubulay archeological site in guyana
  • alternating sediment layers from the dubulay site show human interaction with the land
A section of the Dubulay site.
J.C. Russell
Light and dark sediment layers indicate changes in how humans used the soil.
J.C. Russell

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