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The account of the native Baure people penned by the Jesuit missionary Francisco Javier Eder (1727–72) expressed a conventional scorn for the presumed indolence of the natives with whom he met. Yet Eder was also impressed by the evidence he saw of their capacity for ingenuity, organization, and industry. The extensive linear causeways (which he deemed “bridges”) and adjacent canals were huge environmental engineering efforts that allowed the transportation of goods and people despite the challenges of seasonal flooding. Eder marveled that the massive and numerous earthworks and palisades for military defenses of settlements were on a scale comparable to...

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