Friday, May 4, 2007

Amazon History

Via the latest Wilson Quarterly, a mention of an interesting piece in Conservation magazine. In it Fred Pearce wonders how much of the Amazon rainforest is virgin. Today's Amazon explorers are finding evidence that pre-European civilizations had done some serious forest clearing of their own. Euro diseases probably led to the collapse of those civilizations, and, in the hundreds of years since, the forest has re-grown. But what percentage of today's forest is virgin?

Surely in the Amazon, the greatest rainforest on the planet, virginity can be discovered—nature red in tooth and claw? That's what everyone thought until an American oil prospector named Kenneth Lee first climbed aboard a beach buggy and bounced across the grassy lowlands of Baures in the Bolivian Amazon in the early 1980s. After a while, Lee began to wonder why he was bouncing so much in the grass.

On closer inspection, the landscape appeared to be corrugated. It was composed of a remarkably symmetrical series ofridges and trenches stretching as far as the eye could see. From time to time, he came across higher ridges that looked like roads, and wider depressions that seemed as if they might once have been canals. (Subscription required)

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