Ecuador's colonial past 'written in soil'
August 1, 2018 8:35 AM   Subscribe

The arrival of European settlers in Ecuador had a profound effect on the country's population and environment.

Researchers studying soil cores from the Quijos valley found that they revealed a detailed story of the area's history after Spanish settlers arrived in the 1500s.

The subsequent decimation of the region's indigenous population is told by surprising historians - plants.
posted by poffin boffin (3 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
"Let us not, however, flatter ourselves overmuch on account of our human conquest over nature. For each such conquest takes its revenge on us. Each of them, it is true, has in the first place the consequences on which we counted, but in the second and third places it has quite different, unforeseen effects which only too often cancel out the first. The people who, in Mesopotamia, Greece, Asia Minor, and elsewhere, destroyed the forests to obtain cultivable land, never dreamed that they were laying the basis for the present devastated condition of these countries, by removing along with the forests the collecting centres and reservoirs of moisture. When, on the southern slopes of the mountains, the Italians of the Alps used up the pine forests so carefully cherished on the northern slopes, they had no inkling that by doing so they were cutting at the roots of the dairy industry in their region; they had still less inkling that they were thereby depriving their mountain springs of water for the greater part of the year, with the effect that these would be able to pour still more furious flood torrents on the plains during the rainy seasons."

Engels- The Part Played by Labour in the Transition from Ape to Man

posted by Glomar response at 9:26 AM on August 1, 2018 [8 favorites]

This is really cool research, a micro-focus on history of a time and place. Collectively, it all adds up to what some call the "Orbis Spike" centered on 1610, which reflects the post-epidemic reforestation of Central and South American agricultural land that there were few left to cultivate, and no need for the crops. This sucked a lot of Carbon out of the atmosphere, may have played a role in the "Little Ice Age" global cooling, and most interestingly perhaps, has left a record of mass death and genocide in the Antarctic Ice sheets.

While hard rock geologists favour the atomic bomb testing global signature (radionuclides in sediments) as the long term marker of the onset of the "Anthropocene epoch" that signature doesn't really reflect a global change in the way epochs should define. Conversely, the massive impacts of the "Columbian Exchange" - with disruption (homogenization) of the world's flora and fauna, and unprecedented levels of human mass death and the ecological impacts of that, is arguably a much more significant epoch-defining event.

Within this context, studies like this Ecuador one then return one to the human-scale and local-scale impacts of colonialism in an emotional way - like the Diary of Anne Frank is a synecdoche for the Holocaust.
posted by Rumple at 11:00 AM on August 1, 2018 [15 favorites]

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