Glimpses of Eden: the Pongos Basin of Peru

Well, I’ve had some ‘feedback’ from some of my professional peers regarding my blogs: ‘Gee Dan, so good of you to sell out on your research in favor of war stories from the trenches!?’  OK – well, I guess the blogs were just a lot of fun to write so far (and hopefully just as much fun to read?)  So here is one a little bit different from my prior blogs, that highlights a recent manuscript that was published by my colleagues and I.

Photo by N. Dauphine

Photo by N. Dauphine

Imagine a pristine and lush rainforest that has been virtually un-infiltrated by post-Colombian civilization.  Does such a place exist? And if so, how has it maintained its unexploited state after all this time?  Such a region in fact does exist.  In the Department (state) of Amazonas, Peru, the territory north of the vast Marañon River is perhaps one of the few, if not only, final frontiers remaining on our planet.  A true ‘Garden of Eden’ where people and wildlife live in harmony and the pristine habitat remains relatively unmolested.

The indigenous Aguaruna are perhaps one of the last indigenous communities to be ‘transitioned’ by Missionaries, despite years of attempt.  Indeed, the Aguaruna are one of the groups that tend to be more reactionary to transition, resorting to rituals such as making Tsantas (shrunken heads) of their conquered adversaries.  Remarkably, these ‘noble savages’ are at total peace with nature.  While many indigenous cultures manage their natural resources in a highly sustainable fashion, the Aguaruna go one step further, revering the wildlife with which they share the region, with much of their folklore and culture revolving around birds.  In fact, the Aguaruna even practice the art of taxidermy with birds, using kapok (Ceiba pentandra) fiber instead of cotton.  

blue-eyed beauty
Creative Commons License photo credit:

My colleagues and I have recently published a timely monograph on the incredible diversity of birds inhabiting the land of the Aguaruna: the Pongos Basin.  We found an overwhelming number of more than 450 species representing over 50 different avian Families.  It is highly probable that the incredible avian richness in the 66 plus sites sampled north of the Marañon River is in part due to the ‘noble savagery’ displayed by the Aguaruna, preventing development from encroaching upon their lands.

Care to check out the manuscript?  Click here.

– DB, 5/14/08

100 Years – 100 Objects: Element III

The Houston Museum of Natural Science was founded in 1909 – meaning that the curators of the Houston Museum of Natural Science have been collecting and preserving natural and cultural treasures for a hundred years now. For this yearlong series, our current curators have chosen one hundred exceptional objects from the Museum’s immense storehouse of specimens and artifacts—one for each year of our history. Check back here frequently to learn more about this diverse selection of behind-the-scenes curiosities—we will post the image and description of a new object every few days.

This description is from Dirk, the museum’s curator of anthropology. He’s chosen a selection of objects that represent human cultures throughout time and around the world, that we’ll be sharing here – and on – throughout the year.

This modern piece of art was made by Tammy Garcia (Santa Clara Pueblo, New Mexico). It represents a step-fret motif which we can find in Pre-Columbian cultures dating back more than a millennium. It shows up in Pre-Columbian architecture in Mesoamerica as well as pottery and textiles from South America. This Tammy Garcia piece embodies a link between the past and the present, with the former continuing to be an inspiration for today.

Explore thousands of years of Native American history in the John P. McGovern Hall of the Americas, a permanent exhibition at the Houston Museum of Natural Science.

You can see more images of this fascinating artifact – as well as the others we’ve posted so far this year – in the
photo gallery on