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Multidisciplinary approaches to the Amazonian past

A theme issue of the Royal Society Interface Focus journal about the human history of Amazonia, as seen through interdisciplinary collaborations among scholars from different research fields.

Edited by Nicholas Q. Emlen, Leonardo Arias, Rik van Gijn
09 February 2023
Royal Society Publishing

This theme issue of Interface Focus brings together the work of researchers who investigate the Amazonian past from a range of disciplinary perspectives. The issue grew out of a workshop held during the 2021 conference of the Society for the Anthropology of Lowland South America (SALSA), hosted by the University of Virginia, which featured collaborations among anthropologists, linguists, archaeologists, geneticists, historians and biogeographers. The challenge that these contributors have sought to address is a familiar one in the contemporary research landscape: each of those disciplines has made great strides in illuminating their respective aspects of the Amazonian past, but the increasing specialization and technical sophistication of the disciplines, and the volume of empirical data that they generate, has made it more difficult than ever to work across the disciplines to build an integrated historical picture. In light of this challenge, each of the contributions to this theme issue attempts the hard work of bringing together the data, methods, or theories of more than one discipline to clarify a specific aspect of the Amazonian past.

Amazonia is a fertile ground in which to develop such multidisciplinary approaches because its relative paucity of documentary records makes other sources of evidence regarding the past more important; because multidisciplinary approaches are well suited to address important unanswered questions in Amazonian history; and because a recent and dramatic reappraisal of the region's past make this an exciting time to conduct this sort of research. The papers in this theme issue feature different combinations of academic disciplines, and they address different geographical regions and historical periods, but all of them show how combining insights from different fields can help illuminate aspects of the Amazonian past that would otherwise remain obscure to them all.

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