National Lecture Program

AIA Lecturer: Anna Browne Ribeiro

Affiliation: University of Louisville

Anna Browne Ribeiro is Assistant Professor with the Department of Anthropology at the University of Louisville. She holds degrees in Anthropology (Ph.D. and M.A.) from the University of California at Berkeley; Archaeology (B.A.) from Columbia University, and her research interests are the historical and contemporary representation of peoples and places, human-environment interactions, and engaged, socially-informed anthropological practice, with a focus on Amazonia. Professor Browne Ribeiro’s publications include “Rice cultivation in ancient Amazonia” in Nature Ecology & Evolution (2017).


Amazonia is generally thought of as a primeval forest – one of the last remaining pristine landscapes on Earth.  However, archaeologists have found increasingly diverse evidence for long-term manipulation of plant species and entire landscapes by Amerindian peoples.  Ranging from the early domestication of individual species and curation of landscapes to the creation of vast hydraulic works and transforming the very soil, these changes are proof that Amazonian landscapes are anything but untouched. Drawing upon a growing corpus of knowledge and my own research in the central Amazon, I journey across thousands of years and billions of acres to show how humans have made this great mosaic landscape.

Amazonia has a deep and complex history of human habitation marked by political diversity, ancient practices of environmental engineering, and long-distance networks of communication.  As we have seen elsewhere in the world, this deep history is marked by cycles of political or economic consolidation and resource control and maximization, and periods of infrastructural collapse and settlement abandonment.  In this lecture, I explore some of the major ancient and historic patterns of expansion and contraction of political-economic systems alongside an analysis of resource and land-use strategies. Building on recent findings about environmental shifts and my own ethno-archaeological research, I grapple with the relative successes of late pre-colonial and modern systems of exploitation and consider these in terms of contemporary risk-management and the future of tropical forests.

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