Human-environment interactions in pre-Columbian Amazonia: the case of the Llanos de Moxos, Bolivia
The reconstruction of past environmental and historical events is much needed in Amazonia, a region at the centre of heated debates about the extent of pre-Columbian human disturbance of the natural ecosystems. Important aspects of this debate are to establish to what extent the rise of social complexity was influenced by the local geo-ecology; and what productive strategies were adopted in order to sustain these societies. The Llanos de Moxos (LM), in the Bolivian Amazon, is a vast floodplain made up of a variety of geo-ecological sub regions that host many different types of pre-Columbian earthworks. Therefore, it offers an excellent opportunity to compare different kinds of archaeological landscapes and their relationship to different pre-Columbian cultures and environmental settings. This paper analyses the links between pre-Columbian earthworks and the local geo-ecology in two regions of the LM: 1) the platform field region (PFR) in the north of Santa Ana de Yacuma, where the highest concentration of raised fields has been documented, and 2) the monumental mounds region (MMR) south and east of Trinidad, where >100 pre-Columbian monumental mounds are found. The study draws from remote sensing and GIS analysis, field work in the Bolivian lowlands, and laboratory analysis. Differences in the way people transformed the landscape in the PFR and MMR seem to respond to differences in the local geo-ecology of the two sites. The results also suggest that environmental conditions exerted an important, though not exclusive, control over the levels of social complexity that were reached in different areas of the LM.