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Michael Heckenberger: The Fractal Forest: An Archaeology of Body and Built Environment in the Amazon

A presentation by Michael Heckenberger, Professor of Anthropology at the University of Florida. Part of the University of Chicago Program on the Global Environment's inaugural conference on the Social Life of Forests, held May 30-31, 2008.The archaeology of ancient polities in the Amazon River basin forces a reevaluation of early urbanism and long-term change in socio-ecological systems in tropical forest landscapes. Late pre-Columbian land-use and change, related to hyper-articulated clusters of small- (villages) and medium-sized (towns) settlements that represent individual polities in a regional peer-polity, are described. These patterns document a southern Amazonian variant of an early (pre-modern) pattern of urbanism, which may have characterized similar areas of the broad region. Understanding anthropogenic landscapes of the southern Amazon, in the so-called arc of deforestation, has critical implications for conservation and development, notably to reduce degradation of ecological systems and maintain regional biodiversity.