Ethnogenesis, regional integration, and ecology in prehistoric Amazonia: Toward a system perspective

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This paper critically reviews reconstructions of cultural development in prehistoric Amazonia and argues for the primacy of regional and interregional exchange in generating the complex distributions of ethno-linguistic identities traced by linguists and archaeologists in the area. This approach requires an explicit abandonment of notions of migrating "peoples" in favor of modern anthropological understandings of ethnicity and ethnogenesis. Further, the paper discusses the significance of such a regional system perspective on Amazonian ethnogenesis for the ongoing debate on the extent of social stratification and agricultural intensification on the floodplains and wet savannas of lowland South America. It concludes that the emergence of Arawakan chiefdoms and ethnic identities in such environments after the first millennium BC signifies the occupation of a niche defined in terms of both ecology and regional exchange but also that it transformed both these kinds of conditions. In these processes, ethnicity, social stratification, economy, and ecology were all recursively intertwined.


Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Social and Economic Geography
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)589-620
JournalCurrent Anthropology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2005
Publication categoryResearch