Morgan Schmidt

Grant Type

Post PhD Research Grant

Institutional Affiliation

Massachusetts Inst. of Technology

Grant number

Gr. 9651

Approve Date

April 16, 2018

Project Title

Schmidt, Dr. Morgan J., Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA - To aid research on 'Ethnoarchaeology of Terra Preta: Formation Processes, Cultural Practices and Perceptions of Anthrosols the Upper Xingu Community'

Preliminary abstract: This project investigates the formation processes of archaeological sites with anthropic soils known as terra preta or ‘black earth’ in Amazonia. Amazon anthrosols have been used in the development of the historical ecology theoretical perspective as a prime example of the creation of cultural landscapes where environmental transformations by humans can increase diversity and improve soils. They exemplify how short-term, small-scale interactions between humans and the environment may result in profound transformations of that environment over time. However, scientists have noted the conspicuous lack of research on the specific activities and processes that produced them, whether they were intentionally created, and how they may have been used. Research will be carried out in partnership with the Kuikuro community in the Upper Xingu region of southeastern Amazonia to examine the cultural practices and perceptions of waste disposal and soil management activities that produce these highly modified, exceptionally fertile soils. Previous research by the applicant showed how terra preta soils are being created in the Kuikuro community today with analogs in nearby ancient settlements. The research contributed to our knowledge of archaeological site formation by demonstrating how daily activities modify soil properties. The proposed project will go further by addressing specific questions on actual waste disposal and cultivation practices and the attitudes and perceptions that accompany them, as well as the frequency and spatial patterns of activities that modify soil. New samples will be collected from previously untested contexts to investigate the variability of soil transformations caused by human activities. Knowledge generated from the ethnoarchaeological context will be compared with results from other archaeological contexts.