Evidence confirms an anthropic origin of Amazonian Dark Earths

Umberto Lombardo*, Manuel Arroyo-Kalin, Morgan Schmidt, Hans Huisman, Helena P. Lima, Claide de Paula Moraes, Eduardo G. Neves, Charles R. Clement, João Aires da Fonseca, Fernando Ozorio de Almeida, Christopher Bronk Ramsey, George G. Brown, Marta S. Cavallini, Marcondes Lima da Costa, Luís Cunha, Lúcia Helena C. dos Anjos, William M. Denevan, Carlos Fausto, Caroline Fernandes Caromano, Ademir FontanaBruna Franchetto, Bruno Glaser, Michael J. Heckenberger, Susanna Hecht, Vinicius Honorato, Klaus A. Jarosch, André Braga Junqueira, Thiago Kater, Eduardo K. Tamanaha, Thomas W. Kuyper, Johannes Lehmann, Marco Madella, S.Y. Maezumi, Leandro Matthews Cascon, Francis E. Mayle, Doyle McKey, Bruno Moraes, Gaspar Morcote-Ríos, Carlos A. Palheta Barbosa, Marcos Pereira Magalhães, Gabriela Prestes-Carneiro, Francisco Pugliese, Fabiano N. Pupim, Marco F. Raczka, Anne Rapp Py-Daniel, Philip Riris, Bruna Cigaran da Rocha, Leonor Rodrigues, Stéphen Rostain, Rodrigo Santana Macedo, Myrtle P. Shock, Tobias Sprafke, Filippo Stampanoni Bassi, Raoni Valle, Pablo Vidal-Torrado, Ximena S. Villagrán, Jennifer Watling, Sadie L. Weber, Wenceslau Geraldes Teixeira, C.F. Brazao Vieira Alho

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


First described over 120 years ago in Brazil, Amazonian Dark Earths (ADEs) are expanses of dark soil that are exceptionally fertile and contain large quantities of archaeological artefacts. The elevated fertility of the dark and often deep. A horizon of ADEs is widely regarded as an outcome of pre-Columbian human influence. Archaeological research provides clear evidence that their widespread formation in lowland South America was concentrated in the Late Holocene, an outcome of sharp human population growth that peaked towards 1000 BP. In their recent paper Silva et al. argue that the higher fertility of ADEs is principally a result of fluvial deposition and, as a corollary, that pre-Columbian peoples just made use of these locales, contributing little to their enhanced nutrient status.

Soil formation is inherently complex and often difficult to interpret, requiring a combination of geochemical data, stratigraphy, and dating. Although Silva et al. use this combination of methods to make their case, their hypothesis, based on the analysis of a single ADE site and its immediate surroundings (Caldeirão, see maps in Silva et al.), is too limited to distinguish among the multiple possible mechanisms for ADE formation. Moreover, it disregards or misreads a wealth of evidence produced by archaeologists, soil scientists, geographers and anthropologists, showing that ADEs are anthropic soils formed on land surfaces enriched by inputs associated with pre-Columbian sedentary settlement. To be accepted, and be pertinent at a regional level, Silva et al.’s hypothesis would need to be supported by solid evidence (from numerous ADE sites), which we demonstrate is lacking.
Original languageEnglish
Article number3444
JournalNature Communications
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 17 Jun 2022


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