Amazonia as a Perpetual Elsewhere: The Possible and the Permissible in "Natural" Landscapes

Author(s): Anna Browne Ribeiro

Year: 2019


This is an abstract from the "SAA 2019: General Sessions" session, at the 84th annual meeting of the Society for American Archaeology.

Amazonia is the consummate, perpetual, wild jungle. Despite a century of archaeological research pointing to rich, complex, and culturally diverse ancient societies, and twenty years of mounting geoarchaeological evidence for densely settled Precolumbian towns, many people still imagine Amazonia as a pristine, primordial forest. In this paper, I dig deep into ideas about forests, climate, and moral geographies, which continue to govern how we think about places like Amazonia. I examine how archaeological tendencies toward ecological analysis – among our most grounding and dependable tools – can lead to determinative thinking about possibilities for sociality in particular places. Beyond a critique of ecological determinism, my analysis traces the history of moral geographies. Once sustained by beliefs in the influence of celestial bodies or beings on their terrestrial counterparts, 18th-Century moral geographies found purchase in scientific regional classifications grounded in botanical, climatic, and geographic knowledge. Enlightenment-period narratives about Eurasian societies foregrounded civilization, while in the Americas, nature and catastrophe prevailed. Taking Amazonia as a case study, I consider the extent to which archaeological arguments about places considered "natural" balance explanations emphasizing ecology and catastrophe with those grounded in indigenous knowledge or sociality. Can we, as a discipline, write new moral geographies?

Cite this Record

Amazonia as a Perpetual Elsewhere: The Possible and the Permissible in "Natural" Landscapes. Anna Browne Ribeiro. Presented at The 84th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Albuquerque, NM. 2019 ( tDAR id: 449394)

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Spatial Coverage

min long: -81.914; min lat: -18.146 ; max long: -31.421; max lat: 11.781 ;

Record Identifiers

Abstract Id(s): 25623