The unique functioning of a pre-Columbian Amazonian floodplain fishery

Blatrix, Rumsaïs; Roux, Bruno; Béarez, Philippe; Prestes-Carneiro, Gabriela; Amaya, Marcelo; Aramayo, Jose Luis; Rodrigues, Leonor; Lombardo, Umberto; Iriarte, Jose; de Souza, Jonas Gregorio; Robinson, Mark; Bernard, Cyril; Pouilly, Marc; Durécu, Mélisse; Huchzermeyer, Carl F.; Kalebe, Mashuta; Ovando, Alex; McKey, Doyle (2018). The unique functioning of a pre-Columbian Amazonian floodplain fishery. Scientific reports, 8(1), p. 5998. Springer Nature 10.1038/s41598-018-24454-4

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Archaeology provides few examples of large-scale fisheries at the frontier between catching and farming of fish. We analysed the spatial organization of earthen embankments to infer the functioning of a landscape-level pre-Columbian Amazonian fishery that was based on capture of out-migrating fish after reproduction in seasonal floodplains. Long earthen weirs cross floodplains. We showed that weirs bear successive V-shaped features (termed ‘Vs’ for the sake of brevity) pointing downstream for outflowing water and that ponds are associated with Vs, the V often forming the pond’s downstream wall. How Vs channelled fish into ponds cannot be explained simply by hydraulics, because Vs surprisingly lack fishways, where, in other weirs, traps capture fish borne by current flowing through these gaps. We suggest that when water was still high enough to flow over the weir, out-migrating bottom-hugging fish followed current downstream into Vs. Finding deeper, slower-moving water, they remained. Receding water further concentrated fish in ponds. The pond served as the trap, and this function shaped pond design. Weir-fishing and pond-fishing are both practiced in African floodplains today. In combining the two, this pre-Columbian system appears unique in the world

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


08 Faculty of Science > Institute of Geography > Physical Geography > Unit Paleo-Geoecology
08 Faculty of Science > Institute of Geography
08 Faculty of Science > Institute of Geography > Physical Geography

UniBE Contributor:

Gondim Rodrigues, Leonor Maria, Lombardo, Umberto


900 History > 910 Geography & travel
900 History > 980 History of South America




Springer Nature




Umberto Lombardo

Date Deposited:

06 May 2020 11:02

Last Modified:

05 Dec 2022 15:38

Publisher DOI:


PubMed ID:





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