Amazonian Wetland Domestication: A Spatial Analysis of Pre-Columbian Fish Weirs in Lowland Bolivia


Archaeology, GIS, Bolivia, Amazon, Agriculture


Recent archaeological studies show that pre-Columbian communities began modifying Southwestern Amazonia approximately 3,500 years ago. In lowland Bolivia, a recently mapped network of fish weirs in West Central Llanos de Mojos (WCM) demonstrates how ancient Mojeño groups built artificial earthworks to harness seasonal flooding and catch fish. In the eastern region of Baures, a similar complex of fish weirs has been studied since the 1990s, generating questions about how this system may function in a different hydrological and anthropogenic setting. Similarly, previous research within WCM has focused on the fields and forest islands that pre-Columbian populations built to elevate themselves and their crops from the floodwaters that consume the landscape. However, water is still a necessity for communities, and the dry season beginning in early summer can leave the landscape in a state of drought. This begs the question, were inhabitants also participating in large-scale environmental transformations to domesticate wetlands and increase their duration and scale? This proceeds from the assumption that weirs were not only interacting with water to catch fish but controlling its flow and accumulation to expand wetland habitats and resources more broadly. Using a combination of spatial data and statistical analysis, this study defines potential wetlands within the region, distinguished by two unique patterns of fish weirs, stacks and networks. Results indicate that these wetlands have the capacity to affect water flow and accumulation for over 600 m2 of land but maintain differences in their sizes and relationships to major bodies of water and nearby anthropogenic features.

Date Created







College of Sciences


Department of Anthropology