A new study reveals a humbling lesson in sustainability from our ancestors5 min readReading Time: 4 minutes
This time, let’s think with Owliver before we set out to engage with the article.
Do you think that the modern world has more knowledge than the world before? What makes you believe what you do?
What does knowledge mean to you?
What about wisdom?
What do you think we need more of?
These questions might seem really abstract but you definitely have some answer (no matter how vague) to them. Sit with your friends and discuss these. And now, read the rest of this piece.
A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA (PNAS) reveals that indigenous people lived in the Amazonian forests for 5,000 years without damaging it. Prehistoric people lived in these forests without significantly altering them.
Did you know that the Amazon rainforest rose from the ashes of the world’s longest forest fire?
Ongoing debates are questioning the influence of human usage of the forests from as early on as the prehistoric age. But the research shows that indigenous knowledge preserved the Amazon and helps us navigate ways to develop a relationship of sustainability with nature.
In no way do the findings assert that humans did not use the forests back then. But they reveal that they used it sustainably!
Now, you know why we started by talking about knowledge and how we perceive it?
How do we know this?
All thanks to Dolores Piperno, Ph.D., from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Balboa, Panama who led the study, and her team. She believes that humans from the prehistoric age actually had a positive impact on the forests.
And to think that all of this happened in a time when we did not know about alternative sources of energy and other green gifts of modern science!
The team used what they call botanical archaeology in a remote part of Peru. Here, the tierra firma (or the dry land ) forests make up 90% of the Amazon’s land area. This basically means that their sample size was huge, and adequate to draw any conclusions.
The team excavated the soil of the area and studies it to know what all plants grew in it over thousands of years.They studied each sediment layer for microscopic plant fossils called phytoliths.
As such, they put together a green history of the rainforest. As the indigenous people were part of the forests, this research is one of their joint history.
Why is the study important?
Human activity has led to a strange occurrence in the Amazon forests. Find out, here.
Finding the pieces of a puzzle:
Earlier research argued that the presence of the prehistoric people adversely impacted the forested created modifications that led to the ‘Little Ice Age’.
The Little Ice Age, a period between early fourteenth century and late nineteenth century, was one of general cooling. Temperature around the Northern Hemisphere reduced by 0.6%, and glaciers propped up.
The opposite camp believes that it was the European settlers whose landscaping efforts led to such regrowth that the global carbon dioxide levels fell giving rise to the age of general cooling.
This research showed that our prehistoric indigenous people cannot be held responsible for any damage or sizeable modification to the forest. There is no evidence for crop plants, slash and burn agriculture, forest clearing or establishment of forest gardens. This takes any blame away from the people of the prehistoric era inhabiting the forests!
Towards inclusivity of the indigenous population:
The study shows that knowledge of the indigenous communities cannot be ignored in conservation plans. In fact, the knowledge they ave inherited must be included in the quest to understand and perform sustainable practices.
It is the need of the hour to integrate knowledge with evidence to let the forests our world breathe.