Ancient technology: Amazonian dark earths
LE3 .A278 2015
Bachelor of Arts
Envirironmental & Sustainability Studies
Environmental & Sustainability Studies
Terra preta de Indio, Portuguese for Indian Black Earth, is an anthropogenic soil found deep within the Amazon Basin. The rediscovery of terra preta and its sister soil terra mulatta have redefined the population theories of Amazonia prior to its discovery by Europeans. These soils have shown exceptional fertility despite being surrounded by nutrient poor, dry and acidic soil. They are associated with long term settlement sites and are often characterized by human artifacts. The extent to which terra preta and terra mulatta are spread have led to the theoretical models that posit that these soils were not only anthropogenic, but were intentionally developed to circumvent the environmental limitations of Amazonia’s poor soil. The modern rediscovery of terra preta has led to the academic movement, Terra Preta Nova, started by Wim Sombroek. This purpose of the movement is to use terra preta and its associated soils to reclaim or improve soil fertility around the planet. This paper examines the viability of terra preta, and its major ingredient biochar, for use in Sub-Saharan Africa, an area often considered to be the most food impoverished on Earth. Sub-Saharan Africa possesses identical soil types to those found in Amazonia and appears to be the perfect area for the introduction of terra preta and biochar. The aforementioned soil could potentially improve soil fertility, decrease erosion and reduce Sub-Saharan agricultural dependency on imported, expensive fertilizers. Biochar also acts as a carbon sink and could therefore play a role in carbon sequestration and, therefore, the mitigation of climate change.
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