Mid- to late-Holocene fluvial activity behind pre-Columbian social complexity in the southwestern Amazon basin
The scale, spatial variability and implications of pre-Columbian human-induced changes in the Amazon basin are controversial. While some scholars believe that large settlements and complex societies were limited to areas with favourable environmental conditions and human disturbance was localized, others propose that social complexity developed regardless of environmental constraints and opportunities and that human disturbance was widespread. In order to understand the extent to which environmental preconditions influenced the development of pre-Columbian societies, research is needed that integrates both environmental reconstructions and archaeological data. The present study explores past human–environment interactions in the Llanos de Moxos (LM) in the Bolivian Amazon. Combining extensive fieldwork and remote sensing image analysis, we reconstruct mid- to late-Holocene fluvial activity in the southeastern LM and the formation of a sedimentary lobe left by the Grande River. The lobe deposition created the conditions for the development of fertile, drained soils. We also show how pre-Columbian inhabitants adapted to the sedimentary lobe and managed to maximize the area of land suitable for agriculture by building a drainage/irrigation infrastructure. Our results provide an interpretative framework for the diversity of archaeological remains in the LM and suggest that people reached high levels of social complexity as a result of two necessary factors: favourable environmental conditions and human ingenuity.
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