National Lecture Program

AIA Lecturer: John H. Walker

Affiliation: University of Central Florida

John H. Walker is Associate Professor of Anthropology with the University of Central Florida, and holds his degrees from the University of Pennsylvania (Ph.D.) and the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.  His research interests include political and social organization, landscape archaeology, common pool resources, the relationship between nature and culture, complex societies, agricultural intensification, Geographic Information Systems, ceramic analysis, experimental archaeology, the Amazon Basin, the Andes, and Bolivia. He currently works in the Amazon Basin, studying how pre-Columbian farmers engineered that environment, and how the pristine Amazon has in fact been managed and cultivated for thousands of years.  Dr. Walker’s current publication projects include River, Island and Field: A Historical Ecology of the Bolivian Amazon (in preparation).


Ever since arriving in the New World, people from the Old World have never tired of telling stories of El Dorado, a mythical kingdom of gold, somewhere in the interior of South America. When Jesuit missionaries came to eastern Bolivia in 1665, they also were looking for an opportunity to build a utopia, a Christian world based on their own ideas. What they found were the descendants of a group of agricultural societies, very different from anything that they had encountered before, in Mexico, Peru, or anywhere else. The Llanos de Mojos is a fascinating example of how communities that lived far outside of any state or even state-like organization, were able to build systems of intensive agriculture, maintain high populations, and create a cosmopolitan society of dozens of different languages. Living just down the mountain from the societies of the Peruvian and Bolivian Altiplano, the pre-Columbian Mojenos were the inheritors of a legacy of plant domestication that included crops like peanut, beans, and manioc, which feeds more than 500 million people today. This talk highlights the latest in archaeological and interdisciplinary research from this fascinating and lesser-known region.

The Amazon is often thought of as the living example of untouched, and perhaps untouchable Nature, with a capital N. But over the past thirty years, it has become apparent that the Amazon Basin was the home of a stunning variety of ways of life, as vibrant as any region in the world. By working with experts from other fields like ecology, forestry, linguistics, cultural anthropology, and history, archaeologists are coming to recognize the many ways that the history of the Amazon has been a human history for thousands of years. In this talk we will look at the spectacular ceramics of the Marajo island culture, the circular geoglyphs of the southern Amazon, and the raised fields of the Llanos de Mojos in eastern Bolivia. An understanding of the Amazon that includes the archaeological record is one that no only gives us a truer picture of what went on in the past, but also gives us a stronger foundation on which to base our efforts to successfully live with the Amazon in the future.

Archaeologists like to talk about famous sites like Petra, Cahokia, or Macchu Picchu. But another way to talk about the past is by looking at other things: artifacts, monuments, and especially landscapes. Although thinking about the past by looking at the landscape is older than archaeology, it can get lost in archaeological interpretations that are centered on sites. In this talk we will look at a variety of examples from around the world in which the idea of looking at the places between sites has been just as productive as looking at the sites themselves. Using tools like environmental reconstruction, Geographic Information Science, and pedestrian survey, archaeologists can give new context to what we thought were settled questions. The neolithic landscapes of Stonehenge, the the agricultural lands of Eastern Bolivia all provide new insights into how people lived, moved, and inhabited the world in the past.

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