Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Bolivia Oblivious to History

 In 2021, Global Forest Watch placed Bolivia third in the world for loss of primary forest, behind Brazil and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Ranked by population, Bolivia is highest.

Bolivia, today, has roughly 4m hectares of cultivated land and 10 million cattle. By 2025, the government wants 13m hectares and 18 million cattle. For Bolivia its agribusiness is booming.

Most of this deforestation is happening in Santa Cruz and Beni. But it is in Beni that a unique archaeological civilisation heritage is at risk.

“Archaeology is everywhere in Beni,” said Umberto Lombardo one of a handful of academics who study the archaeology of Beni. “They say if you put up a roof, you have a museum.”

In the Amazon basin a growing body of research has found traces of a vast network of earthworks predating the arrival of Christopher Columbus in the Americas and implying the existence of large, complex societies.

In Bolivia the archaeologist Heiko Prümers and his team began flying over the Llanos de Mojos by helicopter in 2019, mapping the land beneath them with a laser. They then digitally stripped away the vegetation, revealing the topography of the ground underneath. In a paper published in Nature, they described settlements built around monumental mounds, some 20 metres high. Smaller settlements surrounded the larger ones, linked by causeways running for kilometres. Canals and reservoirs show how the people shaped the land for agriculture.

For most of the people that live here and work the land – whether Indigenous communities, settlers, Mennonites or agribusiness – the archaeological remains are so common they are barely remarked on, much less preserved. Roads slice through monumental mounds. Farmers flatten them. People build huts on top of them. In one case near the Mennonite colony, the state road company was taking earth from a mound to fill in potholes.

“For most people here, these mounds don’t have any special value,” said Lombardo. “There are so many things to study. If these sites are destroyed, we may never have the answers.”

There are no incentives for people to report them to the state – nor any experts that could readily be sent to study them. There are just a handful of archaeologists studying the Llanos de Mojos, and none lives in Bolivia. In an ideal world, he says, the government would educate locals about the importance of the mounds, pay to preserve them and set up an archaeological faculty in Beni.

Unchecked deforestation destroying evidence of lost Amazon civilisation | Bolivia | The Guardian

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