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Pre-Columbian Urbanism, Anthropogenic Landscapes, and the Future of the Amazon

Science  29 Aug 2008:
Vol. 321, Issue 5893, pp. 1214-1217
DOI: 10.1126/science.1159769

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Abstract

The archaeology of pre-Columbian polities in the Amazon River basin forces a reconsideration of early urbanism and long-term change in tropical forest landscapes. We describe settlement and land-use patterns of complex societies on the eve of European contact (after 1492) in the Upper Xingu region of the Brazilian Amazon. These societies were organized in articulated clusters, representing small independent polities, within a regional peer polity. These patterns constitute a “galactic” form of prehistoric urbanism, sharing features with small-scale urban polities in other areas. Understanding long-term change in coupled human-environment systems relating to these societies has implications for conservation and sustainable development, notably to control ecological degradation and maintain regional biodiversity.

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