An article in the Atlantic quotes several experts who claim that the Amazon rainforest is the remnants of planted and cultivated orchards and farms, and that the land is not naturally conducive to this type of growth.

Planting their orchards, the first Amazonians transformed large swaths of the river basin into something more pleasing to human beings. In a widely cited article from 1989, William Balée, the Tulane anthropologist, cautiously estimated that about 12 percent of the nonflooded Amazon forest was of anthropogenic origin—directly or indirectly created by human beings. In some circles this is now seen as a conservative position. "I basically think it's all human-created," Clement told me in Brazil. He argues that Indians changed the assortment and density of species throughout the region. So does Clark Erickson, the University of Pennsylvania archaeologist, who told me in Bolivia that the lowland tropical forests of South America are among the finest works of art on the planet. "Some of my colleagues would say that's pretty radical," he said, smiling mischievously. According to Peter Stahl, an anthropologist at the State University of New York at Binghamton, "lots" of botanists believe that "what the eco-imagery would like to picture as a pristine, untouched Urwelt [primeval world] in fact has been managed by people for millennia." The phrase "built environment," Erickson says, "applies to most, if not all, Neotropical landscapes."

Is there any evidence that supports this position?

Edit - This is a link to a paper that may be what the Atlantic Article was referring to. (thanks Oddthinking)

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    That is incredibly interesting if true. Apr 6, 2012 at 14:27
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    About 70% of the Amazon forest is unexplored. Apr 6, 2012 at 22:56
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    @RicardoTomasi: Surely that's unexplored by people wearing trousers: the indigenous inhabitants presumably consider it sufficiently explored for their needs. Apr 7, 2012 at 3:43
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    @dmckee nope, maybe that's not the correct figure, but it's considered unexplored by man. You probably remember a news report a few years back that an uncontacted tribe was found, completely isolated from civilization since no-one-knows. It's pretty hard to move in the jungle. Apr 7, 2012 at 4:18
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    @dmckee also, most indigenous people nowadays wear trousers. They also smoke, drink and gamble, thanks to modern civilization! Apr 7, 2012 at 4:21

1 Answer 1


According to a recent BBC documentary,

As more trees are felled, the story of a far less natural Amazon is revealed - enormous manmade structures, even cities, hidden for centuries under what was believed to be untouched forest. All the time archaeologists are discovering ancient, highly fertile soils that can only have been produced by sophisticated agriculture far and wide across the Amazon basin. This startling evidence sheds new light on long-dismissed accounts from the very first conquistadors of an Amazon teeming with people

The programme page doesn't contain explicit references to the research quoted, but I'm sure the programme team would respond to questions.

  • +1 for more evidence to support the theory. I do not think this fully answers the question but it could be a piece of the answer.
    – Chad
    May 24, 2012 at 12:17
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    That's not a surprise. Amazon idians did not know about iron and the main tool to put down trees was fire. There's a tribe in that region called "Kaiapo" which literally means "with fire in hands". They may have burnt the forest to build their homes and then left after sometime. I highly doubt about the "sophisticated agriculture". Natives didn't even invented the whell at the time, how can I belive they had "sophisticated agriculture"? Feb 25, 2013 at 14:23
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    @HerberthAmaral: "how can I belive" You can believe because you, having not studied the issue yourself, are told by an expert that it was so. I recommend you start believing things experts tell you, or you'd have to forget a lot of other counterintuitive things that are true but that you've never experienced. (Quantum Mechanics, Relativity, Induction, Ideal Gas Law, elemental periodicity etc.)
    – shieldfoss
    Jul 7, 2013 at 7:39
  • @medivh I hope you're joking. Jul 7, 2013 at 10:59
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    @HerberthAmaral Not at all
    – shieldfoss
    Jul 8, 2013 at 7:58

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