The scale and nature of pre-Columbian human impacts in Amazonia are currently hotly debated. Whereas pre-Columbian people dramatically changed the distribution and abundance of species and habitats in some parts of Amazonia, their impact in other parts is less clear. Pioneer research asked whether their effects reached even further, changing how ecosystems function, but few in-depth studies have examined mechanisms underpinning the resilience of these modifications. Combining archeology, archeobotany, paleoecology, soil science, ecology, and aerial imagery, we show that pre-Columbian farmers of the Guianas coast constructed large raised-field complexes, growing on them crops including maize, manioc, and squash. Farmers created physical and biogeochemical heterogeneity in flat, marshy environments by constructing raised fields. When these fields were later abandoned, the mosaic of well-drained islands in the flooded matrix set in motion self-organizing processes driven by ecosystem engineers (ants, termites, earthworms, and woody plants) that occur preferentially on abandoned raised fields. Today, feedbacks generated by these ecosystem engineers maintain the human-initiated concentration of resources in these structures.