The pristine myth: the landscape of the Americas in 1492
Document Type: Journal Article
Author(s): W. M. Denevan
Publication Year: 1992

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
Record Maintained By:
Record Last Modified: October 17, 2018
FRAMES Record Number: 43173
Tall Timbers Record Number: 18356
TTRS Location Status: In-file
TTRS Call Number: Fire File
TTRS Abstract Status: Fair use, Okay, Reproduced by permission

This bibliographic record was either created or modified by the Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy 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 the Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy.


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.

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.