The Pristine Myth: The Landscape of the Americas in 1492



Abstract The myth persists that in 1492 the Americas were a sparsely populated wilderness, “a world of barely perceptible human disturbance’ There is substantial evidence, however, that the Native American landscape of the early sixteenth century was a humanized landscape almost everywhere. Populations were large. Forest composition had been modified, grasslands had been created, wildlife disrupted, and erosion was severe in places. Earthworks, roads, fields, and settlements were ubiquitous. With Indian depopulation in the wake of Old World disease, the environment recovered in many areas. A good argument can be made that the human presence was less visible in 1750 than it was in 1492.