Amazonian soils are almost universally thought of as extremely forbidding. However, it is now clear that complex societies with large, sedentary populations were present for over a millennium before European contact. Associated with these are tracts of anomalously fertile, dark soils termed terra preta or dark earths. These soils are presently an important agricultural resource within Amazonia and provide a model for developing long-term future sustainability of food production in tropical environments. The late Dutch soil scientist Wim Sombroek (1934-2003) was instrumental in bringing the significance of these soils to the attention of the world over four decades ago.
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