Monday, May 10, 2010

The Al-Kemi of the Amazon

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
George Santayana

There is a man-made soil in the Amazon region of South America; it is "thousands" of years old (how many thousands? we'll get back to that); and its properties are so amazing, the best soil scientists in the world haven't been able to recreate it after decades of effort.

From Terra Preta, Magic Soil of the Lost Amazon :

"It controls water and reduces leaching
of nutrients from the rhizosphere. Rich in humus, pieces
of pre-Columbian unfired clay pottery, and black carbon, it’s
like a “microbial reef” that promotes and sustains the growth
of mycorrhizae and other beneficial microbes, and it has been
shown to retain its fertility for thousands of years. In university
trials, terra preta has increased crop yields by as much as 800
percent. It regrows itself when excavated."
(Emphasis added.)

They're all excited about the potential to reduce global warming, but I'm more interested in just how old this stuff really is, and who made it. The academic investigators assure us it was made by indigenous people in Amazonia for about 2,000 years, but it seems to me like more of an assumption than actual proved fact. First of all, the indigenous population had no idea how to make the stuff immediately after the Europeans invaded (and remember, we're still trying to figure out how to make it); also, it's so widespread throughout the Amazon basin that some have suggested the rainforest is a man-made ecosystem.

Terra preta is Portuguese for "black earth". Hmmmm, now where have I heard something like "black earth" before? Oh yeah, "alchemy" supposedly got its name from ancient Egypt, which was supposed to have been called "the black land". But that never made any sense. Egypt's soil isn't black.

Perhaps "the Art and Science of al-kemi" meant the wisdom of the culture that had created this "magical soil", preserved in symbol and allegory for ... 10,000 years? Perhaps "the Art and Science of the Black Land" should be taken quite literally.

The United States of Atlantis?

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