Tuesday, February 24, 2009

El Dorado ecológico

El sueño del Dorado
Ever since the Spanish conquistadores descended the Amazon River, in 1542, perhaps no region on the planet had so ignited the imagination - or lured so many men to their death. For centuries, the conquistadores had searched the jungle for the glittering kingdom of El Dorado.

Las concepciones equivocadas sobre los "indios"
The notion of a complex civilization in the Amazon contradicted the two ethnological paradigms that had prevailed since the first encounter between Europeans and Native Americans, more than 400 years earlier. Though some of the first conquistadores were in awe of the civilizations that Native Americans had
developed, many theologians debated whether these dark-skinned, scantily clad peoples were, in fact, human; for how could the descendants of Adam and Eve have wandered so far, and how could the biblical prophets have been ignorant of them? In the mid-16th century, Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda, one of the Holy Roman Emperor's chaplains, argued that the Indians were "half men" who should be treated as natural slaves.
At the time, the most forceful critic of this genocidal paradigm was Bartolomé de Las Casas, a Dominican friar who had traveled throughout the Americas. In a famous debate with Sepúlveda and in a series of treatises, Las Casas tried to prove, once and for all, that Indians were equal humans ("Are these not men? Do they not have rational souls?"), and to condemn those "pretending to be Christians" who "wiped them from the face of the earth." In the process, however, he contributed to a conception of the Indians that became an equal staple of European ethnology: the "noble" savage. According to Las Casas, the Indians were "the simplest people in the world," "without malice or guile," who are "totally uninterested in worldly

Biological determinism had increasingly given way to environmental determinism. And the Amazon - the great "counterfeit paradise," as the archeologist Betty Meggers famously coined it - was the most vivid proof of the Malthusian limits that the environment placed on civilizations.

El Dorado si existió
Using aerial photography and satellite imaging, scientists have also begun to find enormous man-made earth mounds and causeways across the Amazon - in particular in the Bolivian flood plains where Fawcett first found his shards of pottery. Clark Erickson, an anthropologist from the University of Pennsylvania who has studied these earthworks in Bolivia, says that the mounds allowed the Indians to continue farming during seasonal floods. To create them, he said, required extraordinary labor and engineering: tons of soil had to be transported, the course of rivers altered, canals excavated, and interconnecting roadways and settlements built. In many ways, he said, the mounds "rival the Egyptian pyramids."Some scientists now believe the rain forest may have sustained millions of people. And for the first time scholars are reevaluating the El Dorado chronicles that Fawcett used to piece together his theory of Z. Though no one has found evidence of the fantastical gold that the conquistadores had dreamed of, the anthropologist Neil Whitehead said, "With some caveats, El Dorado really did exist."

Articulo completo aqui.