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Glenn H. Shepard Jr., Charles R. Clement, Helena Pinto Lima, Gilton Mendes dos Santos, Claide de Paula Moraes, and Eduardo Góes Neves

The tropical lowlands of South America were long thought of as a “counterfeit paradise,” a vast expanse of mostly pristine rainforests with poor soils for farming, limited protein resources, and environmental conditions inimical to the endogenous development of hierarchical human societies. These misconceptions derived largely from a fundamental misunderstanding of the unique characteristics of ancient and indigenous farming and environmental management in lowland South America, which are in turn closely related to the cultural baggage surrounding the term “agriculture.” Archaeological and archaeobotanical discoveries made in the early 21st century have overturned these misconceptions and revealed the true nature of the ancient and traditional food production systems of lowland South America, which involve a complex combination of horticulture, agroforestry, and the management of non-domesticated or incipiently domesticated species in cultural forest landscapes. In this sense, lowland South America breaks the mould of the Old World “farming hypothesis” by revealing cultivation without domestication and domestication without agriculture, a syndrome that has been referred to as “anti-domestication”. These discoveries have contributed to a better understanding of the cultural history of South America, while also suggesting new paradigms of environmental management and food production for the future of this critical and threatened biome.