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Amazonian Dark Earths in Africa?

posted on 2023-06-07, 16:39 authored by James FairheadJames Fairhead, Melissa LeachMelissa Leach
During the last 20 years, research on Amazonian soils has been central to a complete reappraisal of the region's social and natural history. Patches of dark and highly fertile soils have been found to occur throughout Amazonia, known as Amazonian Dark Earths (ADE) and sometimes distinguished as terra preta (Black Earths) and terra mulata (Brown Earths). The former are usually described as the legacy of the former settlement sites (middens) of pre-Colombian farmers, and the latter as a legacy of their agricultural practices. The ability of these soils to support intensive agriculture has undermined environmentally-determinist views of Amazonian history which until recently asserted that the inherently infertile soils could not support populous settled farming. The importance of ADE is not restricted to their historical significance. First, these soils are sought after by today's farmers (Woods and McCann 1999; German 2003; Fraser et al., this volume). Second, the development of new techniques to establish them rapidly could help intensify modern farming in Amazonia and beyond. Third, because the secret to these soils is at least partially due to the high proportion of charred carbon they contain, farming technologies based on ADE have the potential to sequester enormous quantities of carbon, suggesting a ‘win-win’ opportunity, improving sustainable agriculture whilst mitigating climate change.


Publication status

  • Published



Page range


Book title

Amazonian Dark Earths: Wim Sombroek's vision

Place of publication

Dordrecht; London



Department affiliated with

  • Anthropology Publications

Full text available

  • No

Peer reviewed?

  • Yes


William I Woods, Christopher Steiner, Johannes Lehmann, Lilian Rebellato, Wenceslau G Teixeira, Antionette M G A WinklerPrins

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