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Type: Journal Article
Author(s): W. M. Denevan
Publication Date: November 1992

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.

Citation: Denevan, W. M. 1992. The pristine myth: the landscape of the Americas in 1492. Annals of the Association of American Geographers, v. 82, no. 3, p. 369-385.

Cataloging Information

  • 1492
  • agriculture
  • Alabama
  • archaeological sites
  • Aztec civilization
  • bibliographies
  • biogeography
  • Caribbean
  • Central America
  • coastal plain
  • Columbus
  • De SOTO
  • deforestation
  • diseases
  • distribution
  • disturbance
  • earthworks
  • ecosystem dynamics
  • ecotones
  • erosion
  • European settlement
  • fire frequency
  • fire tolerant species
  • forest types
  • grasslands
  • herbaceous vegetation
  • histories
  • human caused fires
  • hydrology
  • land use
  • landscape ecology
  • lightning caused fires
  • Mexico
  • mortality
  • mosaic
  • mountains
  • Native American settlement and demography
  • Native Americans
  • old fields
  • Pinus elliottii
  • Pinus palustris
  • population density
  • prairies
  • prehistoric fires
  • prehistoric New World
  • pristine myth
  • private lands
  • Quercus
  • regeneration
  • roads
  • savannas
  • scrub
  • season of fire
  • seedlings
  • shrubs
  • soils
  • South America
  • trees
  • vegetation change
  • wildlife
Tall Timbers Record Number: 18356Location Status: In-fileCall Number: Fire FileAbstract Status: Fair use, Okay, Reproduced by permission
Record Last Modified:
Record Maintained By: FRAMES Staff (
FRAMES Record Number: 43173

This bibliographic record was either created or modified by Tall Timbers and is provided without charge to promote research and education in Fire Ecology. The E.V. Komarek Fire Ecology Database is the intellectual property of Tall Timbers.