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Concept: Indigenous peoples


The discovery of large geometrical earthworks in interfluvial settings of southern Amazonia has challenged the idea that Pre-Columbian populations were concentrated along the major floodplains. However, a spatial gap in the archaeological record of the Amazon has limited the assessment of the territorial extent of earth-builders. Here, we report the discovery of Pre-Columbian ditched enclosures in the Tapajós headwaters. The results show that an 1800 km stretch of southern Amazonia was occupied by earth-building cultures living in fortified villages ~Cal AD 1250-1500. We model earthwork distribution in this broad region using recorded sites, with environmental and terrain variables as predictors, estimating that earthworks will be found over ~400,000 km2of southern Amazonia. We conclude that the interfluves and minor tributaries of southern Amazonia sustained high population densities, calling for a re-evaluation of the role of this region for Pre-Columbian cultural developments and environmental impact.

Concepts: Demography, Population, Population ecology, Population density, Stream, Amazon River, Archaeology, Indigenous peoples


Developing countries are increasingly decentralizing forest governance by granting indigenous groups and other local communities formal legal title to land. However, the effects of titling on forest cover are unclear. Rigorous analyses of titling campaigns are rare, and related theoretical and empirical research suggests that they could either stem or spur forest damage. We analyze such a campaign in the Peruvian Amazon, where more than 1,200 indigenous communities comprising some 11 million ha have been titled since the mid-1970s. We use community-level longitudinal data derived from high-resolution satellite images to estimate the effect of titling between 2002 and 2005 on contemporaneous forest clearing and disturbance. Our results indicate that titling reduces clearing by more than three-quarters and forest disturbance by roughly two-thirds in a 2-y window spanning the year title is awarded and the year afterward. These results suggest that awarding formal land titles to local communities can advance forest conservation.

Concepts: South America, United Nations, Bolivia, Amazon Basin, Indigenous peoples, Title, Peru, Amazon Rainforest


Drugs dedicated to alleviate neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s have always been associated with debilitating side effects. Medicinal mushrooms which harness neuropharmacological compounds offer a potential possibility for protection against such diseases. Pleurotus giganteus (formerly known as Panus giganteus) has been consumed by the indigenous people in Peninsular Malaysia for many years. Domestication of this wild mushroom is gaining popularity but to our knowledge, medicinal properties reported for this culinary mushroom are minimal.

Concepts: Neurology, Neurodegenerative disorders, Latin America, Malaysia, Agaricus bisporus, Indigenous peoples, Agaricales, Pleurotus nebrodensis


Coastal Indigenous peoples rely on ocean resources and are highly vulnerable to ecosystem and economic change. Their challenges have been observed and recognized at local and regional scales, yet there are no global-scale analyses to inform international policies. We compile available data for over 1,900 coastal Indigenous communities around the world representing 27 million people across 87 countries. Based on available data at local and regional levels, we estimate a total global yearly seafood consumption of 2.1 million (1.5 million-2.8 million) metric tonnes by coastal Indigenous peoples, equal to around 2% of global yearly commercial fisheries catch. Results reflect the crucial role of seafood for these communities; on average, consumption per capita is 15 times higher than non-Indigenous country populations. These findings contribute to an urgently needed sense of scale to coastal Indigenous issues, and will hopefully prompt increased recognition and directed research regarding the marine knowledge and resource needs of Indigenous peoples. Marine resources are crucial to the continued existence of coastal Indigenous peoples, and their needs must be explicitly incorporated into management policies.

Concepts: Ethnic group, Kilogram, Overfishing, Indigenous Australians, Tonne, Indigenous peoples, Transformation of culture, Metric system


The Amazon basin is the largest and most species-rich tropical forest and river system in the world, playing a pivotal role in global climate regulation and harboring hundreds of traditional and indigenous cultures. It is a matter of intense debate whether the ecosystem is threatened by hunting practices, whereby an “empty forest” loses critical ecological functions. Strikingly, no previous study has examined Amazonian ecosystem resilience through the perspective of the massive 20th century international trade in furs and skins. We present the first historical account of the scale and impacts of this trade and show that whereas aquatic species suffered basin-wide population collapse, terrestrial species did not. We link this differential resilience to the persistence of adequate spatial refuges for terrestrial species, enabling populations to be sustained through source-sink dynamics, contrasting with unremitting hunting pressure on more accessible aquatic habitats. Our findings attest the high vulnerability of aquatic fauna to unregulated hunting, particularly during years of severe drought. We propose that the relative resilience of terrestrial species suggests a marked opportunity for managing, rather than criminalizing, contemporary traditional subsistence hunting in Amazonia, through both the engagement of local people in community-based comanagement programs and science-led conservation governance.

Concepts: Ecosystem, Amazon River, Brazil, Rainforest, Amazon Basin, Indigenous peoples, Amazon Rainforest, Peruvian Amazon


Native American populations declined between 1492 and 1900 CE, instigated by the European colonization of the Americas. However, the magnitude, tempo, and ecological effects of this depopulation remain the source of enduring debates. Recently, scholars have linked indigenous demographic decline, Neotropical reforestation, and shifting fire regimes to global changes in climate, atmosphere, and the Early Anthropocene hypothesis. In light of these studies, we assess these processes in conifer-dominated forests of the Southwest United States. We compare light detection and ranging data, archaeology, dendrochronology, and historical records from the Jemez Province of New Mexico to quantify population losses, establish dates of depopulation events, and determine the extent and timing of forest regrowth and fire regimes between 1492 and 1900. We present a new formula for the estimation of Pueblo population based on architectural remains and apply this formula to 18 archaeological sites in the Jemez Province. A dendrochronological study of remnant wood establishes dates of terminal occupation at these sites. By combining our results with historical records, we report a model of pre- and post-Columbian population dynamics in the Jemez Province. Our results indicate that the indigenous population of the Jemez Province declined by 87% following European colonization but that this reduction occurred nearly a century after initial contact. Depopulation also triggered an increase in the frequency of extensive surface fires between 1640 and 1900. Ultimately, this study illustrates the quality of integrated archaeological and paleoecological data needed to assess the links between Native American population decline and ecological change after European contact.

Concepts: Demography, United States, Native Americans in the United States, Indigenous peoples, Indigenous peoples of the Americas, New Mexico, European colonization of the Americas, Population history of American indigenous peoples


The cumulative nature of human culture is unique in the animal kingdom. Progressive improvements in tools and technologies have facilitated humanity’s spread across the globe and shaped human evolution, but the cognitive mechanisms enabling cultural change remain unclear. Here we show that, contrary to theoretical predictions, cumulative improvements in tools are not dependent on specialised, high-fidelity social learning mechanisms. Participants were tasked with building a basket to carry as much rice as possible using a set of everyday materials and divided into treatment groups with differing opportunities to learn asocially, imitate, receive teaching or emulate by examining baskets made by previous chain members. Teaching chains produced more robust baskets, but neither teaching nor imitation were strictly necessary for cumulative improvements; emulation chains generated equivalent increases in efficacy despite exhibiting relatively low copying fidelity. People used social information strategically, choosing different materials to make their baskets if the previous basket in the chain performed poorly. Together, these results suggest that cumulative culture does not rest on high-fidelity social learning mechanisms alone. Instead, the roots of human cultural prowess may lie in the interplay of strategic social learning with other cognitive traits including the ability to reverse engineer artefacts through causal reasoning.

Concepts: Psychology, Culture, Anthropology, Globalization, Archaeology, Indigenous peoples, Observational learning, Sociocultural evolution


Infant mortality is higher in Indigenous than non-Indigenous populations, but comparable data on infant morbidity are lacking in Canada. We evaluated disparities in infant morbidities experienced by Indigenous populations in Canada.

Concepts: Demography, Population, United States, Inuit, Indigenous peoples, First Nations


Aboriginal Australians represent one of the longest continuous cultural complexes known. Archaeological evidence indicates that Australia and New Guinea were initially settled approximately 50 thousand years ago (ka); however, little is known about the processes underlying the enormous linguistic and phenotypic diversity within Australia. Here we report 111 mitochondrial genomes (mitogenomes) from historical Aboriginal Australian hair samples, whose origins enable us to reconstruct Australian phylogeographic history before European settlement. Marked geographic patterns and deep splits across the major mitochondrial haplogroups imply that the settlement of Australia comprised a single, rapid migration along the east and west coasts that reached southern Australia by 49-45 ka. After continent-wide colonization, strong regional patterns developed and these have survived despite substantial climatic and cultural change during the late Pleistocene and Holocene epochs. Remarkably, we find evidence for the continuous presence of populations in discrete geographic areas dating back to around 50 ka, in agreement with the notable Aboriginal Australian cultural attachment to their country.

Concepts: Pacific Ocean, Australia, Papua New Guinea, Indigenous Australian languages, Constitution of Australia, Indigenous Australians, Archaeology, Indigenous peoples


Morbidity and mortality caused by tuberculosis are increased in most of the Latin-American indigenous communities. Factors that could explain this situation are poverty and limited health services access due to social conflicts and geographical isolation. We determined the frequency of tuberculosis in Colombian indigenous communities and described their knowledge related to transmission and control. We developed a descriptive study and health survey. Interviews were performed to find ancestral knowledge about tuberculosis. Sputum samples from patients with respiratory symptoms were analyzed. 10 indigenous communities were studied, which tuberculosis incidence was 291/100,000. Communities believe that tuberculosis is a body and spirit disease, which transmission is by direct contact or by witchcraft. Tuberculosis incidence in the studied communities was ninefold higher than that of the general population from Antioquia Department. Knowledge exchange could facilitate the community empowerment and implementation of educational activities which might improve the control of the disease.

Concepts: Medicine, Epidemiology, Disease, Demography, Colombia, Indigenous peoples, Antioquia Department, Medellín