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Was the Amazon forest a permaculture project?  RSS feed

 
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I was captivated by the luxurious vegetation of the Amazon while very young, and its pockets of mysterious happy people. My memory is not perfect but I remember reading that next to a very desirable fruit tree, with a very thorny trunk, the indians planted palm trees, so they could climb them and catch the desirable fruit.

Another piece of intriguing information was a book claiming that the water ways of the amazon, the sinuous river banks were man made, the intricate curving and curving of the rivers was altered, created  slowly by men to irrigate the land better.

Here is an article that speaks about the trees in the jungle, and how men shaped the jungle into the luxurious garden it became 500 years ago.

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/pristine-untouched-amazonian-rainforest-was-actually-shaped-humans-180962378/

8 million people lived in the Amazon, what a feat for an ancient culture!

https://www.newhistorian.com/man-made-amazon-theory-support/8122/

Man made waterworks PREDATED the Amazon rainforest.

https://www.nbcnews.com/science/science-news/mysterious-human-made-ditches-predate-amazon-rainforest-n150141

Did you guys know this and I am coming late to the party???
 
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In 2006 I read Mann's book 1491 where he relates that the Amazon was planted by it's human inhabitants.  I can't recall his sources for this, but it certainly predates his book.  As Brazil's new leadership seems to support clearing more forest it makes me consider moving there to help retain the ancient permaculture systems that are still at least partly there.  What a treasure!  Thank you for your good post on this Ella.
 
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Many parts of the Amazon have been human occupied for thousands of years so it isn't, or shouldn't be, that surprising that those people would plant trees they wanted where they wanted them.

Many of the Amazonian peoples have wonderful stories of how the forest became so full of medicinal plants, food plants and shelter supply plants and they even talk about where some of the items came from in the beginning.
I personally don't find it as "unbelievable" as some of my colleges have seemed to think it is. Trade must have gone on way back when, how else could plants found further north only, have gotten into the basin area?
Rivers are always the original highways in the areas where there are rivers and most people will build their villages where they have easiest access to all the things they need to live well.

Don't look at everything you read from scientific theories as being absolute either, science people make mistakes and thinking that just because they say something is so, doesn't always end up being correct or completely correct.
While we have good evidence of some areas being impacted by humans, to correlate that to the whole of the millions of acres that make up the basin would be making assumptions based on little areas of the whole.
That is usually how things start to go wrong in the scientific world. Just as the discovery of terra preta, which was found in one location, not everywhere in the amazon basin.

Redhawk
 
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I don't know whether the origin was due to human involvement or simply nature working right, but...

I saw a documentary where they dug into the amazon soil, expecting to find the best "black gold" stuff ever.  It was for a few inches, but after that, nothing but white sand!

Turns out the system is so efficient that almost all of the biomass is in live, standing plants, not the soil!  Interesting!
Now, that's one remarkably efficient system, if you think about it.  Nothing wasted in the amazon.

Also turns out that was bad news for the cattle ranchers who were burning the forest for land.  Bye, bye, biomass.  What they thought was going to be this amazing, fertile, land literally went up in smoke.
It would be tempting to call it poetic justice if it wasn't all so stupid and tragic.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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Yes indeed, the main problem with stripping any rainforest is that the soil beneath the trees is very poor soil with the forest detritus being the main source of minerals and other nutrients the whole system of plants survives on.
Cut down the forest and it can not regrow without many amendments being made to get the system going again.  
Man in all his glory, has a habit of cutting down forest to create "farm land", very rarely does this end up being the good idea man thought it was.
Then they simply move on to repeat the craziness, expecting a different result (this is the definition of insanity), so what happens is eventually there will be no more land to farm.
The Loess area of China is the perfect example of this insanity, it is now being recovered but it takes a lot of hard work and time to get a plot viable for growing plants again, it is also proof that we can do it.

Redhawk
 
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I'm going to say that no, the Amazon was not a permaculture project.

Many of the elements of the Amazonian landscape might be familiar to permies, but that does not make it permaculture.

Fundamentally, permaculture is a form of intentional design. A permaculture practitioner observes their environment and makes decisions for intervention based on extensive theoretical and practical knowledge of what has and has not worked in other different and similar situations. There is a huge degree of scientific understanding underpinning our perspective of the world, even if it is not made explicit in our thought processes and decision making.

I think a permie might have many things in common with an Amazonian tribesman when it comes to how they plan and use their environment. But it is more akin to convergent evolution; two paths arriving at similar destinations.

For a start, permaculture is a choice for most of us. But for the Amazonian it was simply the only way that they knew worked in their environment. The people who took risks with their "primitive" agriculture either  succeeded or died. And you can bet that given a straight up choice between their way of life and modern lifestyles many would have jacked it in in a heart beat. We are blessed with incredible individual and societal wealth, and yet we look back with rose tinted glasses on tribesmen whose lives we will never have a hope of understanding. People who fought their environment day by day to survive and used inherited knowledge of certain "recipes" that worked. "If you plant breadfruit near your village you will have more breadfruit." And every now and then a tribe gets the idea to start clearing forest to plant crops and a few generations later you end up with a dust bowl and the tribe dies out.

A permaculturist in that same situation would be able to predict the longer term implications of their actions. They would understand that clearing land in that environment was likely to be harmful. They would understand the significance of soil nutrients and leeching by rain water, and plan accordingly. They might plant the same trees, but their thought process is totally different.

 
Bryant RedHawk
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good point Michael, Permaculture came into being in the 1920's and 30's while the Amazon planters were working around 1000 BC and earlier so technically they could not have been practicing permaculture but sustainable forestry and sustainable agriculture.
 
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To me any person/family that grow/self forage most of their fish/egg/chicken/vegetables/fruits/tubers is permaculture.
If they are building their house without fossil fuel/electricity (because it did not "exist") that is permaculture
If they are "composting" their waste onsite and it doesn't have plastic/fossil fuel in it, that is permaculture.
If they are not spraying the earth with *cides to kill plant/animal life, that is permaculture.
If they are not doing feedlot animal husbandry, that is permaculture.

I think that most of what people have been doing before the past 150yrs of human history qualify as permaculture. People knew which plants/cultivars like swampy/wet area and which plants grew okay in drier/hotter areas.

Right now the 95% of people (in USA) who have less than half an acre to far,. is taking permaculture farming courses and asking if the people who farmed 150yrs ago (which is 90% of the entire population), knew how to use hand tools and to make animals do the work. I think the answer is yes.


As a current city dweller, I consider myself a permie because I have three fruit trees, which is an improvement and I have lots of dream. But the truth is that my food, heating, water, sewer, housing, etc is not really sustainable. My carbon footprint is more than 90% of the rest of the world. I am living a lifestyle that is more sustainable/permaculture than the avg person from 150yrs ago or 1000 years ago.
 
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Given their waste-disposal methods involved open smoldering heaps of debris - I would argue that they were neither permacultural nor sustainable.

Permaculturists use thousands of modern scientific facts from various disciplines to inform their judgement. Sustainability can only be known with complex models that measure and account for the myriad inputs and outputs of human and natural systems.

The knowledge that allows sustainable, efficient living is a recent development and I think we should celebrate it as the futuristic lifestyle that it is.
 
Ella Irati
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A few years ago I found a book that I did not finish as it was very dense, in it they seemed to say that the actual water ways had been intentionally made by the people in the last 100 years or so. Because the new ways of farming the Amazon are so damaging, cutting the trees allows the rain to wash away the fertile terra prieta leaving only the red sand underneath, I was not so interested in the book.

What the research indicates to me is that about 2000 years ago, the people who lived in this plain started changing the ecosystem. That they made the water slow down and take detours, so it would irrigate more land and stay longer in the soil, they created soil, they planted trees, so eventually what was grassland became a intricate food forest. The trees brought in the rain, and the climate changed.

If this is true, the the AmazonĀ“s rainforest is a man made rainforest, I think its permaculture at its best. Even the terra preta that gives such a fertility to the area was man made.

I was in Kenya and saw the Massai Mara, the reason there is only grass and plain animals and there is not agriculture is that the soil is sand, and only very adapted type of grass grows there. I am thinking that the Amazon was a similar place, sandy soil, so more grasses than trees. If the Massai had been able to change the soil like the Amazon Indians, they would have had trees, and the trees would have brought more rain or kept the humidity longer. The neighbors of the Massai, the Kikuyus, are all farmers, the soil in their area is more fertile.

What if the people of the Amazon created the Amazon by changing the sand into good soil, planting trees, and deviating and slowing the brooks and small rivers? The pollen changed from grass to trees very quickly.

Think about that.Mind blowing.
 
Greg Martin
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Michael Cox wrote:I'm going to say that no, the Amazon was not a permaculture project.

Many of the elements of the Amazonian landscape might be familiar to permies, but that does not make it permaculture.

Fundamentally, permaculture is a form of intentional design. A permaculture practitioner observes their environment and makes decisions for intervention based on extensive theoretical and practical knowledge of what has and has not worked in other different and similar situations. There is a huge degree of scientific understanding underpinning our perspective of the world, even if it is not made explicit in our thought processes and decision making.

I think a permie might have many things in common with an Amazonian tribesman when it comes to how they plan and use their environment. But it is more akin to convergent evolution; two paths arriving at similar destinations.



Michael, my perspective is different on this one.  If someone learned to hunt, they were hunters.  If someone learned to fish, they were fisherman.  If someone did what we think of as permaculture, they were permaculturists.  They wouldn't have used the word, but we do so that's what we would call them.  Also, the people of the Americas seem to have had very high culture developed over a very long time.  Their mastery or plant breeding and landscape modification make them masters of these arts compared to us.  I feel like after 500 years of effort we might start to approach their skills....maybe.  It might take 1000 years to catch up?  We shall see (if we last that long).  When one of us takes a wild low yield weed and turns it into something akin to corn then we can begin to compare ourselves.  I really hope we can get there...we've taken a lot of poor paths to get to our current state.  

I really like Paul's husp thought experiments concerning how we might start to get there.
 
Ella Irati
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Bryant RedHawk wrote:Many parts of the Amazon have been human occupied for thousands of years so it isn't, or shouldn't be, that surprising that those people would plant trees they wanted where they wanted them.

Many of the Amazonian peoples have wonderful stories of how the forest became so full of medicinal plants, food plants and shelter supply plants and they even talk about where some of the items came from in the beginning.
I personally don't find it as "unbelievable" as some of my colleges have seemed to think it is. Trade must have gone on way back when, how else could plants found further north only, have gotten into the basin area?
Rivers are always the original highways in the areas where there are rivers and most people will build their villages where they have easiest access to all the things they need to live well.


Redhawk



Redhawk,

Here is the book, I found it in my library. Page after page I found anecdotal information of how the river is being changed by man. It was too dense for me to read but I just opened it and landed on page 18, where a couple talk about the, watch this: 2 mile channel they dig to bring the river to their farm. In page 19, there is a note on a new river that was made around 1960, etc etc etc.

What does that tell us?

It tells me that humans can not only revert but improve and create. The Amazon basin had sun and rain, but a poor sandi soil that allowed mostly grasses. Then the pollen profile changed rapidly about 2000 years ago, from annual grasses that could stand drought to perennials that need continuous humidity. I am thinking the weather changed with the plant profile, and that it is the trees planted and the waterworks, and the man made terra preta, which are brining in even more rain than before.

These people continue changing the river profile, expanding it, slowing it.


My imagination is on fire. What this is making me think is that whatever we are doing with permaculture today is not the standard, we have not yet imagine all that is possible.

What do you think?
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In Amazonia
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Bryant RedHawk
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hau Ella, It is always wonderful to see a person arrive at their "AH Ha" moment, no matter what that moment is focusing on. It is especially gratifying to see someone's eyes sparkle with their focus on rejuvenating our earth mother.

Any time we look at the indigenous peoples, of any area, we should study their ways of doing things and learn from them, these ways are developed over thousands of years by observation, trials and the errors are thrown out, keeping only what works best for them.
Too bad that "modern" man only follows the paths of the European style mind set, where artificial production of food is thought to be the best method instead of working with nature this mind set is always fighting nature, that makes it a loosing battle, all the time.

I think that people are finally starting to wake up and that awakening is bringing changes in thought patterns, recognition of what isn't working and making the changes needed to be more in tune with nature rather than be in constant battle with the unstoppable forces of the earth mother.

(that is a wonderful book and worth taking the time to read over and over to glean all the knowledge it contains).

Redhawk
 
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I think, as mentioned earlier, that technically they would have been practicing elements of what we now call permaculture. I would term theirs, or anything that happened before Mollison coined the term as "proto-permaculture." There wasn't really a baseline, or anything to compare it to.

It's like calling my grandmother's grandmother's farming practices back in Poland, VORP. It may have qualified, but not only did it precede the term's invention by a century or more, it was also all there was at the time, so the distinction is meaningless.

I don't think open-pit burning disqualifies the ancient amazonians from having practiced proto-permaculture. There was much less harm possible than today, by virtue of the lower population numbers, and the lower negative impact of their lifestyles. No dioxins being produced, no ecological disasters caused by putting dams where they'd kill off downstream ecosystems, no mining, no tilling, no slash-and-burn agriculture.

Personally, and I know this isn't a popular opinion, I have never been fond of Paul's HUSP analogy. It still feeds into the whole "noble savage" archetype of first nations people, which I don't think anyone in anthropological and historical circles clings to any longer.

I hope that anyone with more specific knowledge than I can correct any inaccuracies, but my reading of history suggests a diversity of societies over the course of thousands of years, some coming together in large, centralised societies, some of which experienced calamity (in two cases, driven by climate change, and in one of those, exacerbated by poor forest management), and some living semi-nomadically, adopting practices that hardened them for seasonal times of dearth.

I have read stories about groups who adapted and thrived, and those who didn't and barely survived, or didn't. I have also read stories about conflicts between different groups of people on the land, just as in other societies, stories of ego and hubris, stories just like countless others around the world.

I think I don't like the HUSP analogy because it suggests that there was something that could have been done by the First Nations people that could have saved their continent from invasion, and that they failed to act, when the issues of conflicting disease environments essentially rendered any action that could have been taken moot. When disease wipes out 90% of the population on the ground, what is there that could possibly be done?

There is also the issue of politics. In Mann's book, 1491, he describes a scenario where the europeans, who were known quantities owing to exchanges with fishermen over the years, were kept at arm's length, so to say, until some opportunistic coastal dwellers tried to get the newcomers to solve some political situations of theirs.

Kola Redhawk, have you had the chance to read Charles C. Mann's 1491, or the sequel, 1493? I would love to get your take on those books, as well as on Paul's HUSP concept.

To be clear, it's mostly been the politicking and the human part of the equation that lays the groundwork for the whole HUSP concept with which I have had issue. My understanding of the Pocahontas incident suggests that she used a tradition of vouching for an outsider to keep John Smith from being killed, and later was essentially sold into marriage by her father and was taken back to Europe, where after two years being shown off as an anthropological curiosity, she died. I have nothing against her, personally, but I always felt that the political entities of North America deserved more consideration than a young girl whose compassion, while it proved her mettle, probably changed little, and could have effected less.

I have little data on this, and would love more. I have always wanted to know if the bones of resistance could have existed, and if the First Nations people could have repelled the European invasion.

I know that the situation further south, with the Spanish conquering the Maya, lasted up to two centuries, in some locales, and that the way the Spanish managed it concerned dismantling the Mayan political structure as much as introducing the European disease environment, which was to say that Old World technology was less of an advantage than most today would believe.

Sorry to threadjack.

I don't know if terra preta would have been developed had the ancient amazonians not disposed of their detritus by burning and then burying the burnings, come to think of it. Where would that leave them in terms of permaculturality?

-CK
 
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I don't think open-pit burning disqualifies the ancient amazonians from having practiced proto-permaculture. There was much less harm possible than today, by virtue of the lower population numbers, and the lower negative impact of their lifestyles. No dioxins being produced



Open-pit burning releases dioxins. Smoldering fires and burning green material (which they used to control temperature and oxygen levels) releases more dioxins than a typical dry fire.
I don't think it's fair to write off their pollution as acceptable given their population numbers. By the same token the modern lifestyle generates acceptable levels of pollution, there are just a few billion too many people.

I'm the first to get hot under the collar over terra preta, but I like to be cautious about viewing historical indigenous lifestyles through rose-coloured glasses.
History is equal parts accident and intent - while we are primed to see the shadowy hand of agency, we often later find that a natural phenomenon or a happy accident was the cause.

Does digging a '2 mile channel' out from a river qualify as slowing it down and improving it? How does it compare to a swale high up on a hill?
I would think that with such a powerful river, diversions would only increase erosion and reduce flows over time.
 
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I don't know much about the South American landscape but I do know that a lot of the North American landscape was intentionally cultivated. There are many reports of it looking like a magical garden, about how it could somehow provide for the needs of people much better than wild landscapes in Europe, etc. The manner of farming/landscaping that native peoples in Canada practiced was different from the manner practiced in Europe but it was still there and it was still very important. The indigenous people were quite intentionally selecting towards the plants that were edible or otherwise useful and away from those that weren't.

I do think we have to keep in mind that the historical mindset towards intentional cultivation would be different to the modern-day one. Most historical people wouldn't have as much understanding towards what would damage or protect our current ecosystem; but to say that people from this era didn't care about biological continuity seems very unfair. They were doing the best they could do under difficult circumstances, and in most cases they actually did pretty well.

I personally think a big part of permaculture and sustainable living is ensuring that you're not producing more children than you can personally care for. As far as I know, the indigenous people in my area had no issue with that, but nowadays there are an awful lot of non-indigenous people who have kids without really thinking about it. In my life, I see a lot of people having kids that they don't know how to raise without abusing them physically or verbally. Nowadays if you don't know how to have children without causing issues, I think you should wait to have children until you're in an environment where you can trust. It's not that complicated.
 
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Well, just speaking on behalf of my ancestors, it was intentional. One can, intentionally, choose a social system which does not harm the earth for future generations. It is not hard. And yes, of course it includes not having more children than the earth can support.
We resisted colonization in the most profound way we could imagine, namely by resisting the violent intent, and the violent thought structures which gave rise to the intention.  We still do, one compost heap at a time. The story is not over yet :) Who is to say our methods are not working?
 
Chris Kott
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You are far from the first to get hot under the collar about the byproducts of combustion related to the production of charcoal for inoculation as biochar.

I don't think the burning that took place historically is anything compared to your average backyard barrel burn in the States, primarily because of what was being combusted. They had no plastics, and the chief reason they couldn't do dry burning, I suspect, was the humidity.

In addition, not all dioxins are created equal. I don't know if the classes of dioxin created by the low-temperature burn conditions of a green, damp pit-burn of organic matter-based middens, which is likely what we're discussing, has anything on those produced by low-temperature combustion of plastics, but I suspect that the dioxins from plastic burning are more easily produced in quantity,  and might be more persistent, and might even be biologically worse than those derived from green organic matter.

As to slowing down the Amazon, that would have the effect of reducing flow rate, which would reduce the size of particle that the flow could carry away. As to whether a swale would be better, that would depend on the subsoil topography. If digging down through the relatively thin and fragile soil layer increased water infiltration overmuch, everything up slope of the swale might dry out.

Slowing the Amazon probably had the effect of making it more able to support a greater population and diversity of smaller life forms, which in turn probably helped support greater numbers of larger species.

Also, because it was a natural system being augmented,  there was no drought being created upswale, only a diversion of water from the ocean into the groundwater.

-CK
 
Michael Cox
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Meg Mitchell wrote:
I personally think a big part of permaculture and sustainable living is ensuring that you're not producing more children than you can personally care for. As far as I know, the indigenous people in my area had no issue with that, but nowadays there are an awful lot of non-indigenous people who have kids without really thinking about it. In my life, I see a lot of people having kids that they don't know how to raise without abusing them physically or verbally. Nowadays if you don't know how to have children without causing issues, I think you should wait to have children until you're in an environment where you can trust. It's not that complicated.



Children in poor societies fulfill very different roles to modern wealthy societies.

In developing countries children are an investment in future security for the parents. By having lots of children they get cheap labour now, and they get a decent chance that when they are old their children will care for them. Thus there is a strong incentive to have lots of children.

In an affluent developed society children are a net drain on family resources. They cost a lot of money to house, feed, clothe and educate. They are not typically used for manual labour. And ultimately there is little expectation that they will care for parents in old age. Hence as wealth rises the number of children and birth rate typically falls.

I'm not sure where a "permaculture family" would fit into this spectrum.
 
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Slowing the Amazon probably had the effect of making it more able to support a greater population and diversity of smaller life forms



On land, certainly, but within the waterway?
Turbidity, oxygenation and insufficient cleansing-flows are often limiting factors in water biology.
It's also a landscape that would be particularly impacted by increased erosion, with it's thin soils and heavy rains.

I don't know if the classes of dioxin created by the low-temperature burn conditions of a green, damp pit-burn of organic matter-based middens, which is likely what we're discussing, has anything on those produced by low-temperature combustion of plastics



The most harmful of dioxins, TCDD, is created by the incomplete combustion of organic material. It's why unventilated indoor fires can be so harmful.
It's the low temperature of the midden-burn that makes it so toxic - if your fire is hot enough, it will cleanly burn off the pollutants before they do harm.

The difference of pollution outputs between amazonian burns and modern biochar retorts is night and day.
It's also an argument for banning 'Average Joes' from making their own biochar and restricting it to highly regulated commercial enterprise, just like we do with municipal waste incineration.

The burning of plastic has other issues in addition to dioxins, depending on it's manufacture. Particulate matter and cyanide being two of many potential outputs.
 
Ella Irati
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Bryant RedHawk wrote:hau Ella, It is always wonderful to see a person arrive at their "AH Ha" moment, no matter what that moment is focusing on. It is especially gratifying to see someone's eyes sparkle with their focus on rejuvenating our earth mother.



Yes, yes, it was an aha moment, a big one! You are very perceptive. I wonder, was it a aha moment or was it really really something the people did there? Because if the Amazon were to be the result of the Native people, not the result of a plan and a vision per se, but the magnificent result of the appropriate cumulative practices, it would be much more than my little armchair farmer aha moment, don't you think?


Bryant RedHawk wrote: Any time we look at the indigenous peoples, of any area, we should study their ways of doing things and learn from them, these ways are developed over thousands of years by observation, trials and the errors are thrown out, keeping only what works best for them.



Yes, yes, Redhawk. Some people in America had achieved an amazing atunement with nature, and a way of life that was very harmonious and happy (not all, not all, not all, but some).


Bryant RedHawk wrote: Too bad that "modern" man only follows the paths of the European style mind set, where artificial production of food is thought to be the best method instead of working with nature this mind set is always fighting nature, that makes it a loosing battle, all the time.



Always fighting nature, yes, that was my impression too. That didn't agree with me. I guess I searched and observed and one time I read something about apple trees, that a Japanese man had observed that the apples were all sick because the transplanted trees main root was damaged and the visible part because disorganized, apples in the shade got moldy and pesticides were applied... while the apple tree from seed was as beautifully organized above earth than bellow, and I was hooked.

Now I have a few acres and I think and think about what to do with it, but I got the bug, and am looking at a little piece of desert to do water play. How much terrain is need to affect the microclimate on an area?

 
Ella Irati
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Hi Chris,

Chris Kott wrote:I think, as mentioned earlier, that technically they would have been practicing elements of what we now call permaculture. I would term theirs, or anything that happened before Mollison coined the term as "proto-permaculture." There wasn't really a baseline, or anything to compare it to.



Yup, what I am trying to communicate is a paradigm change. We no longer see the Amazon jungle as a pristine forest inhabited by small bands of indigenous people that given their small numbers do not damage their ecosystem and basically learn to live in harmony with the jungle they found when they arrived, and to which they adapted.

No no no no no... what the data is suggesting is mind bloggling, the story that the ancient pollen is telling, for the first time, is a song, the song is saying that first, the Amazon had rain and sand, and it was a poor land that naturally had grasses, grasses that had adapted to the poor, unsatisfying terrain, in which torrential rains alternated drought... just like vast areas of East Africa right now, from Ethiopia to Tanzania.

Now, men came to this grassland, and in a few centuries CHANGED the grassland into a PERMANENT JUNGLE. That is big. Lets not give religious reverence to words like "Mollison" or "Permaculture", because if what the pollen is telling is true, permaculture is a very small example of what has been done.

Think of it, if men made the Amazon, do you realize the implications? This goes beyond what a bunch of farmers are dreaming to do here. Lets dream bigger then.

 
Ella Irati
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Meg Mitchell wrote:I don't know much about the South American landscape but I do know that a lot of the North American landscape was intentionally cultivated. There are many reports of it looking like a magical garden, about how it could somehow provide for the needs of people much better than wild landscapes in Europe, etc. The manner of farming/landscaping that native peoples in Canada practiced was different from the manner practiced in Europe but it was still there and it was still very important. The indigenous people were quite intentionally selecting towards the plants that were edible or otherwise useful and away from those that weren't.

I do think we have to keep in mind that the historical mindset towards intentional cultivation would be different to the modern-day one. Most historical people wouldn't have as much understanding towards what would damage or protect our current ecosystem; but to say that people from this era didn't care about biological continuity seems very unfair. They were doing the best they could do under difficult circumstances, and in most cases they actually did pretty well.

I personally think a big part of permaculture and sustainable living is ensuring that you're not producing more children than you can personally care for. As far as I know, the indigenous people in my area had no issue with that, but nowadays there are an awful lot of non-indigenous people who have kids without really thinking about it. In my life, I see a lot of people having kids that they don't know how to raise without abusing them physically or verbally. Nowadays if you don't know how to have children without causing issues, I think you should wait to have children until you're in an environment where you can trust. It's not that complicated.



Hi Meg, you raise a lot of interesting points. I vaguely heard that this area of New York was plentiful with birds and fish. There is a suspicion that it was not an accident. It was not that it was  naturally occurring abundance as we think of a virgin area that man arrives and depletes its natural riches fist, and then it is necessary to carefully preserve that reflection of brilliance. The land had been invigorated by the people, was not a indigenous person who said that we had to think 7 generations ahead? I head the plains were man made, with fires, to produce grassland so the bison could thrive. This is all I know. But it forms an intriguing concept I can not shake off my head. What else do you know? Are there any sources?

If the indigenous people created the plains, what should we protect, the plains with the bisons or the primordial forests? Or do we agree that if we can plant trees and grow forests, natural forests everywhere and as much as we can, the better? (I am a tree person and my origins are from the mountains so forests do it for me). Preserve means something is dwindling, how about push forward and invigorate?
 
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Ella Irati wrote:I heard the plains were man made, with fires, to produce grassland so the bison could thrive.



The North American Prairie was not man-made, but made by a partnership of grass, fire, bison and humans.
 
Ella Irati
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Tyler Ludens wrote:

Ella Irati wrote:I heard the plains were man made, with fires, to produce grassland so the bison could thrive.



The North American Prairie was not man-made, but made by a partnership of grass, fire, bison and humans.



Thanks, who do you know? Could you indicate any worthy source?
 
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Some of these conclusions rest on a number of unqualified assumptions. But let's look at it for a second.

What, then, were the predominant biomes here in the Americas before the arrival of the First Nations' ancestors? To what extent were they all engineered? Or would it have been more of a tweaking than a massive redesign?

Was the grassland so unproductive that the jungle that replaced it was an ecological step-up? Why would that have been, when grassland ecosystems have been shown to be healthy, diverse, and capable of sequestering truly massive quantities of carbon?

As to the severity of dioxin production, I wonder how extensively samples of terra preta have been tested for dioxins. If the negative impact was so severe, surely there would be evidence left of it. Perhaps not, though, as the half-life of dioxins in sub-soil is, on the outside, 100 years. Still, that should leave something after all this time.

As to the negative effect on aquatic life of the waterway, again, I don't think that would have been an issue. The changes would have taken human generations, and many more animal generations, meaning there was time for adaptation. Those creatures that needed additional oxygenation probably sought out those areas where the terrain features oxygenated the water.

As stated above, if you slow down the water, you decrease the size of particle the current is able to carry, meaning that the rate of erosion is greatly slowed with the flow rate of the current. At the same time, the heavy rains and percolation through the surrounding vegetation likely accounts for a great deal of oxygen entering the aquatic system; I don't think a little meander and a little extra distance affected much.

Also, if jungle enclosed a watercourse formerly surrounded by grassland, the added shade upon the waterway might have decreased the average temperature of said water, thereby increasing its oxygen-carrying capacity, and as we all know, oxygen is one of the chief limiting factors in any aquatic system.

So I would love to see evidence of dioxins in samples of terra preta. That might give us an actual idea of how bad their practices were. I wager they were nothing compared to any post-industrial household output, to be sure, and I suspect a great deal better. I wonder, also, what the archaeological record has to say about changes in sedimentation along the course of the Amazon during the period in question.

Fascinating, in any case.

-CK
 
Chris Kott
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Addendum: I found an interesting article here discussing exactly the issue of dioxins with regards to natural fire events. Here's a quote regarding terra preta:

Many soils worldwide contain large amounts of historically produced char and other fire-derived organic matter that could potentially contain dioxins (even today a large proportion of dioxin emissions come from wildfires). Up to 40% of the total soil organic matter (SOM) in grasslands and boreal forests may be fire-derived. Anthropogenic soils such as the Amazonian Terra Preta contain large amounts of pyrolyzed organic matter. Toxic effects from these soils have not been observed.



Which is not to say that dioxins were never created or present, only that the type of dioxin created didn't have the shelf-life or persistent toxicity required to be an issue.

The same article explains fairly early on that not all dioxins are created equal, and that a system that breaks it down to equivalent toxicities is used to compare them.

Still fascinating, though.

-CK
 
Chris Kott
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Also, I found this article for any who had doubts about the environmental impact of people at whatever technical level of development on climate.

-CK
 
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