In the last 20 years, archeologists have undertaken considerable research into the paleoecology of the American tropics. New methods have not only provided new answers to old questions but also raised new questions. This book attempts to synthesize the information and inferences flowing from that research, focusing on the emergence of agriculture in the lands between southern Mexico and southern Amazonia below 1,200 meters elevation. It surveys the period from the first human occupation until about two thousand years ago, by which time the authors believe the basic patterns of slash-and-burn agriculture in the tropics had been set.

Their approach is deeply informed by evolutionary biology and behavioral ecology. They discard hypotheses about the origins of agriculture in the Americas based on population pressure (wisely) and on social change, believing that climate change—the end of the last glaciation—played a larger role than any...

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