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Set #4- Denevan's "Pristine Myth"
Terms in this set (19)
When was the "pristine myth" invented? By whom?
19th century. Romanticist writers and painters.
What is Denevan's hypothesis?
The Indian landscape of 1492 had largely vanished by the mid 18th century, not through a European superimposition, but because of the demise of the native population.
According to Denevan, how large was the pre-Columbian population of Central America and the Caribbean? What about Mexico?
5.6 million. 17.2 million.
Describe the scale and rate of mortality that resulted from the arrival of Europeans
~90% reductions in ~150 years. Much more rapid in some regions like the Basin of Mexico.
Compare Latin America's population in 1750 with Denevan's 1492 estimate. How might this comparison partially explain the invention of the "pristine myth"?
12 million vs. ~39 million. The population had decreased and rebounded to only ~30% of the pre-Columbian population. Observers in the second half of the 1750's were looking at a landscape that humans had largely abandoned and in which the forests had recovered. This empty forested landscape appeared to be pristine.
What was the most important tool for vegetation modification?
How did people convert forest to long-term savanna in Central America? Why would they do that?
Fire. Burning maintained a grassland habitat that was favorable for game species of wildlife.
How does the widespread occurrence of charcoal in the Amazon, or the rainforests of Central America, suggest that humans modified forests? Think about the tropical rain forest climate.
In such a moist climate fires are rarely natural. This suggests that large populations of humans were managing land with intentionally set fires.
What does anthropogenic mean?
Made by the people.
What are "swidden burns"? How did they contribute to modifying the forests?
Swidden is a synonym for slash and burn agriculture. Swidden burns are areas where the forest has been cleared and burned. Swidden burns removed original forest and re-set ecological succession so that the forest composition was dramatically different.
What does Denevan mean when he says that ~40% of Latin American forest is "secondary"?
By secondary Denevan means that ~40% of the forests already had been cleared by humans and regenerated as a secondary forest.
What is a "swidden fallow"? How does it make a forest anthropogenic?
Swidden fallow is the period when farmland is allowed to rest (fallow) and forest is allowed to regenerate. Because humans control the regeneration, or succession, of the forest, the forest is anthropogenic.
What were "montones"? How were they evidence of massive landscape change?
Montones were the many large hills in which indigenous peoples of the Caribbean planted their agricultural crops. Montones covered vast areas of the Hispaniola which, under natural conditions would support a tropical rainforest.
What caused the "severe landscape degradation" in central Mexico? Indigenous farmers or Spanish cattle?
Indigenous farmers. The Spanish cattle arrived after population growth had forced indigenous farmers to overuse their lands and extend production to marginal lands both of which caused environmental degradation.
How did the environment recover by the late 1700s?
By the late 1700's, the population of farmers had plummeted so much that agriculture lands were allowed to rest and forest to regenerate.
How did coastal Panama's vegetation change from 1502 to 1681? What caused the change?
Drastic population decline allowed the cleared, humanized landscape of 1502 to regenerate into a forested, low human population density landscape by 1681.
How did the environment of Yucatan change from 800 to the 1500s? What caused the change.
Drastic population decline allowed the cleared, humanized landscape of 800 to regenerate into a forested, low human population density landscape by the 1500's. What is interesting about Yucatan is that European-introduced diseases did not cause the population decline.
What does the first sentence on p. 380 mean?
In the 16th and 17th century virgin forests were rare in the Americas. After the great population declines, empty lands cloaked by regenerated (secondary) forests were common. Observers interpreted these as virgin, pristine lands.
Did you learn any of this perspective on indigenous population and environmental modification in your K-12 classes? Why or why not?
No. Our understanding of pre-Columbian demography and environmental modification is recent. Also, education often supports national mythology.
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