About 50 years after the time of Columbus, some Spanish conquistadors in Peru, governed by a family named Pizarro, sent a military expedition headed by Francisco de Orellana, with a Spanish Dominican friar, Fr. Gaspar de Carvajal, eastward over the Andes mountains and down the rivers into the jungle to discover gold and cinnamon. The expedition was faithfully recorded by Fr. Carvajal.
Somewhere near where the Coca and Napo Rivers joined they ran out of provisions. Fifty of them went on downstream searching for food and when they came to the place where the Negro River meets the Amazon River they encountered what Fr. Carvajal described as “large cities, well developed roads, monumental construction, fortified towns, and dense populations.” The starving soldiers insisted on continuing downstream toward home and eventually returned to Spain.
For over four centuries, scholars dismissed Fr. Carvajal’s reports as fantastic exaggerations dreamed up to finance future expeditions, and when much later expeditions finally returned to the area they found nothing to support the claims. In fact, the earlier expedition had planted the seeds of destruction from diseases that the native people were not able to survive, and in only a few years the jungle had quickly destroyed the wooden dwellings and reclaimed the gardens with lush jungle foliage.
Only now, within the last fifty years, scientists have found proof that Fr. Carvajal’s reports were accurate.
Archeologists and scientists have recently re-discovered an ancient formerly thriving agricultural civilization along the banks of the Amazon River in Brazil with a sophisticated society that had the ability to produce abundant food in the thin clay-rich acidic ultisol soils of the jungle rain forests. These garden plots still exist with anthropogenic (man-made) fertile latosol soil as much as six feet deep. Similar soils, called anthrosols, or “Dark Earth” (Terra Preta de Indio in Portuguese) have also been found in Ecuador, Peru, French Guyana, in Benin, Liberia, and on the South African savannas.
Experts estimate that nearly 2500 to 9000 years ago people discovered that by putting low-temperature charcoal in high concentrations with large quantities of composted organic wastes, pottery shards, kitchen wastes, human and animal feces, fish and animal bones and other materials in their garden plots they would increase the yield of vegetables and other crops, sometimes as much as 880 times the yield of the surrounding soils. Today, it has been discovered that this fertility actually regenerates and increases with time. We call it “permanent soil restoration”.