Dark earth


Walking on dark earth
Where the Arapiuns River meets the Tapajós River and, together, the two rivers flow into the Amazon River, here was another large concentration of pre-Columbian population. As at the meeting of the Rio Negro and the Rio Solimões, here, at this important geographical point, we can say that there was a great city. This can be considered whenever a major tributary meets the Amazon River, such as the Xingu River. Having a great concentration of population, it must necessarily have a very efficient agriculture capable of feeding the inhabitants of those places and their numerous visitors. On this expedition to the Arapiuns River, I observed many outcrops of dark earth, demonstrating that the place was widely cultivated.
Let’s be honest! The political and cultural establishment had it in our heads that the Amazon was a desert place with a few villages of wild Indians fighting for survival. That doesn’t match the evidence, a lot of evidence.

D67_2215 – Leonide Principe
Equipment: NIKON D7000 with lens AF-S DX VR Zoom-Nikkor 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G IF-ED [II] set at 26 mm – Exposition: ISO: 100 – Aperture: 5.6 – Shutter: 1/80 – Program: Shutter Priority – Exp. Comp.: +0.3,
Original digital capture of a real life scene –
Original file size: 4992px x 3280px
Location: Ana community (Santarém – Pará Brazil)
Date: May 27, 2019 – Time: 2:46:38 PM
Collection: Urucurea community – Persons shown: none
communitarian tourism, turismo comunitário, ecoturismo, ecotourism, TURISMO, TOURISM, Santarem, Para, Amazônia, Amazon, Amazonian, Brazil, Brasil, Brazilian, América do Sul, South America, Comunidade Urucureá, Urucurea community, Pará, terra preta arqueológica, ADE, archaeologic dark earth, TPA, herança indígena, indigenous legacy, SUSTENTABILIDADE, sustainability
EN1 Walking on dark earth D67_2215
PT1 Andando sobre terra preta D67_2215
© – Leonide Principe, all right reserved

I’ve gone back eleven thousand years, and since I can do that, I’ll also allow myself the luxury of flying over an endless Amazon rainforest. After a long, pleasant flight, I see a small clearing, on the edge of a stream. It is a small village of few nomadic families…

The «prehistory»

I’ve gone back eleven thousand years, and since I can do that, I’ll also allow myself the luxury of flying over an endless Amazon rainforest. After a long, pleasant flight, I see a small clearing, on the edge of a stream. It is a small village of few nomadic families who struggle with the daily task of survival. So as not to distract them from their daily tasks, I approach in stealth mode and my ship is completely silent.

I stand right on top of the hollow, my mental screen scanning every movement around the clearing. The hunter brings his prey, the fisherman brings his fishes, others come with fruits, and everyone gathers around the central fire to prepare their daily food. It’s the party, all together, there are dances, like every day, there is plenty and joy. I want to go down among them, but I know that would drastically change the behavior. At daybreak, all, or almost all, are on their feet, each to his task. The children are already screaming and diving into the creek. I take my attention to those who clean the court, this is the focus of my trip. They gather the leftover food, everything goes to the fire and, later, it is carried to make another small pile in the midst of so many others, which accumulate on the edge of the village. In the surroundings of that little world, bones and the remains of food burned in the fire accumulate, coal and ash, husks and lumps, urine and feces.

There is a complete cycle between receiving and giving, perfectly balanced and constantly evolving. I can see the result in the next thousands of years.

I’m testing this new technology of dilating and contracting time, I follow it, always invisible and silent, accelerating the years.

When the area’s resources run low, the group leader decides to move the village. So it happens, for several generations, and they follow the ancestral trails, accumulating the memory of the ancients, in pure nomadism.

The ship’s chronometer has already passed 6 thousand years, the descendants of that same human group, after several returns to the same place, are more numerous and they come to celebrate abundance. It is the abundance of the ancestors who collected and selected seeds from the peach palm and açaizeiro, from the uxi, from the piquiazeiro and from the chestnut tree and from so many other fruits, which are now a very rich forest that grows luxuriantly on the dark soil, rich in organic matter, is an ecosystem that includes a vast biodiversity, plant and animal. They already consciously know how to accumulate organic waste on the outer edge of the village. Cultivation fields grow in proportion to the population. It is the beginning of a new historical cycle: the village realizes that the place can guarantee its permanent livelihood and agriculture is born. More species are domesticated, and then they’ve been improving that formidable soil, which makes plants thrive.

The depth of the terra preta measures from one to two meters, there are many ceramic shards, specialized colonies of bacteria and fungi that orient themselves in the collaborative energy flow.

In our day, we call it Archaeological Dark Earth (ADE), a sophisticated agricultural technology that scientists struggle to understand. I dare say, because they divide everything into inanimate pieces, which dissolve the meaning of a harmonious totality.

The villages grow and occupy more territory, now they have manioc, açai, buriti, chestnuts, piquiá, tucumã… They even have a complex system of rituals, which we now call culture. They have advanced university knowledge, with a faculty capable of consulting ancestry. This is not a metaphor: the shaman receives real instructions from his ancestors, telling him about a knowledge whose spiritual charge makes him direct, simple and highly reliable.

On the other hand, the official history of the academy defines the pre-Columbian era as prehistory and says that the millenary landscape of human occupation of the region had no agriculture and no culture, just a wild people fragmented into small villages, fighting for survival. That was, say the sages of the academy, until the arrival of Europeans, when the official history of the continent began. And so it is, even today, they conclude: as indigenous villages are today, so they have always been in past times.

The «History»

A big mistake happened in the Amazon.

In my race through time, I am arriving at the time of the invasion, «the trail of tears».

The first conquerors had no sense of diplomacy, they were true barbarians, without scruples, greedy for gold, of which they heard an incredible abundance. More lethal than their firearms, they carried the worst of enemies, invisible and implacable: viruses and bacteria that, in defenseless bodies, could not forgive. The foreigners looked more like powerful evil wizards, who punished the natives with magic. This aspect of the conquest was always ignored or put in the background, because the indigenous peoples were really an obstacle. In addition to creating resistance, they were not suitable for the slave labor that the dominators demanded. So when the scientists arrived, the massacre was already consumed and few realized the real size of the genocide, and, for convenience, they kept silent.

But it is necessary to speak! After several centuries of silence, even though monuments of glory have been erected and commemorative events are celebrated every year, it must be said that those heroes of the conquest were in reality war criminals, greedy adventurers who left destruction in their wake. They still left as an inheritance until our days, the contempt of the native peoples.

Our civilization that assumes itself as such cannot fail to examine its present and past acts and determine the necessary adjustments, under penalty of its extinction. They lived here for thousands of years. They were as civilized as Europe, and in some ways even more so. If, instead of annihilating, the first conquerors had sought to integrate and make use of that knowledge, today we would not live such a schizophrenic relationship with nature… and the risk of mass extinctions would not be so close.

“Twentieth-century anthropologists made the mistake of entering the Amazon seeing only small tribes and saying, ‘Well, that’s all there is.’ The problem is that, by then, many indigenous populations had already been decimated by what was essentially a holocaust of European contact. That’s why the first Europeans in the Amazon described such massive settlements that later nobody was able to find”.

“[…] The image of small and ephemeral indigenous groups with minimal impacts on the lands they occupied is still widely held by many natural scientists, environmentalists, politicians and even the general public. This is no longer sustainable.”

Michael Heckenberger, anthropologist

We can, therefore, say that there is irrefutable evidence of an Amazonian civilization as advanced as the Incas, the Mayans, the Aztecs. But to dissolve all sorts of doubts, I will continue my time travel.

The “built” soil

My timeship wants to get away from that dark time soon, but it seems I can’t go back without the risk of staying there. It’s tempting, but I know I have something to do in the wake of our tormented times. My intuition consoles me that the truth can no longer be hidden.

I see the solution to this great dilemma right in front of us, what our European ancestors failed to see. That greedy blindness that led them to look for an Eldorado that was in broad daylight and they couldn’t see. The gold of the lost cities, the gold of the ‘conquerors’ has always been in sight. There were no monumental stone cities, but ritualistic centers in huge hollows of up to 1,000 m2, built with palm leaves and wooden sticks, an architecture that is still enviable today. There were roads connecting villages, up to 20 meters wide, perfectly clean, astronomically aligned, between one city and another. There were forest gardens with extremely fertile land, land made by its inhabitants from extremely poor soil. The entire forest was an exquisitely cultivated garden. There were huge chestnut groves. In Acre, earthen constructions hitherto hidden by the forest appear more and more. «Giant structures whose geometric precision and consistency of measurements indicate meticulous planning” (Denise Schaan). This has all been proven: the Amazon is a cultural forest.

«The Brazilian lives Brazil and does not discover it».

Mario de Andrade

In 1720, the border guard Antônio Pires de Campos described a densely inhabited landscape at the head of the Tapajós River, just west of the Xingu:

“These peoples exist in such enormous numbers that it is not possible to count their towns or villages, often in a day’s march you pass 10 to 12 villages, and in each there are 10 to 30 dwellings, and among these houses there are some measuring 30 or 40 paces in width… even their streets, which they make very straight and wide, are kept so clean that not a single fallen leaf is to be found…”

Report by the border guard Antonio Pires dos Campos, 1720

Antônio Pires de Campos’ account was considered by historians to be an exaggeration, if not a hallucination. The cultural and scientific establishment never wanted to admit the possibility of advanced civilizations in the Amazon. However, more and more evidence is emerging. In archaeological sites recently researched, it was discovered that there was a large population, a highly productive economic system and extensive changes in the landscape, and probably an urban-type social organization.

It is well known that the natural soil of the forest, from yellow clays to sedimented sand, washed away by tropical rains, quickly loses its nutrients. However, the soil “built” by the ancient peoples of the Amazon is still a mystery: the Archaeologic Dark Earth is a living soil, which regenerates and expands. Its fertility remains today, after thousands of years. Many try to reconstruct it as Terra Preta Nova and the author of this article is one of them. It’s a fascinating, simple and ingenious way of dealing with the earth.

The Magic of Black Earth

We are a very different people from how the ancients were: we think a lot, we analyze, we want evidence that shows the coherence of our reasoning. There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s just a method of research, what’s wrong is to think that that’s the only way to get to knowledge.

Ancient peoples acted differently and therefore came to realize an extremely advanced knowledge of the reality where they lived.

My timeship shrinks, much smaller than a grain of sand and I dive into the dark earth, and I discover the elements that make it up: it has coal, a lot of coal, and ash, it has burnt food remains, it has pottery shards, it has colonies of bacteria that make it alive even after thousands of years, and it has a lot of organic matter, among other things.

It’s time to go back, three letters stand out on my mental screen: NDE, New Dark Earth.

So my journey returns to the point of origin, and I see that dark earth is by no means forgotten. In the United States, small mobile plants towed by trucks arrive at farms and carbonize crop residues to be re-incorporated into the land.

So, terra preta generates profit, so Universities in the United States and the Netherlands, among others, develop research on the subject.

If Terra Preta became a common practice, it would be the activity with the highest carbon capture, because the carbon stored in the land is where it needs to be, where it remains stable. While ancient people stored carbon in the earth, our civilization stores it in the air. But of course, dark earth can reverse this madness.

Dear Mário de Andrade, at this point I would say: Brazilians live Brazil and it’s time to discover it, because there are many people out there who have already discovered it.


Dark Earth deposit
Archaeological Dark Earth site near the village of Canoas, in the municipality of Presidente Figueiredo. Dark earth sites are well known in the Amazon. At first, it was thought that they were natural deposits of organic matter, but the constant presence of pottery shards associated such patches of terra preta to ancient indigenous settlements. At the site in the photo, the black earth is being extracted by tractor. I leave to the reader the considerations about the modality of use of an archaeological site.

X20_4708 – Leonide Principe
Equipment: COOLPIX P7800 with lens set at 6 mm – Exposition: ISO: 100 – Aperture: 2 – Shutter: 1/125 – Program: Shutter Priority – Exp. Comp.: -0.3,
Original digital capture of a real life scene –
Original file size: 4032px x 3024px
Location: Canoas (Presidente Figueiredo – Amazonas Brazil)
Date: September 7, 2015 – Time: 5:04:50 PM
Collection: Archaeologic Dark Earth – Persons shown: children
herança indígena, indigenous legacy, SUSTENTABILIDADE, sustainability, terra preta arqueológica, ADE, archaeologic dark earth, TPA, crianças, children, GENTE, PEOPLE, Canoas, Presidente Figueiredo, Amazonas, Amazônia, Amazon, Amazonian, Brazil, Brasil, Brazilian, América do Sul, South America
EN2 Dark Earth deposit X20_4708
PT2 Depositos de terra preta X20_4708
© – Leonide Principe, all right reserved

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