Date:

Hundreds of ancient earthworks built in the Amazon

The Amazonian rainforest was transformed over two thousand years ago by ancient people who built hundreds of large, mysterious earthworks.

Findings by Brazilian and UK experts provide new evidence for how indigenous people lived in the Amazon before European people arrived in the region.

- Advertisement -

The ditched enclosures, in Acre state in the western Brazilian Amazon, were concealed for centuries by trees. Modern deforestation has allowed the discovery of more than 450 of these large geometrical geoglyphs.

The function of these mysterious sites is still little understood – they are unlikely to be villages, since archaeologists recover very few artefacts during excavation. The layout doesn’t suggest they were built for defensive reasons. It is thought they were used only sporadically, perhaps as ritual gathering places.

The structures are ditched enclosures that occupy roughly 13,000 km2. Their discovery challenges assumptions that the rainforest ecosystem has been untouched by humans.

The research was carried out by Jennifer Watling, post-doctoral researcher at the Museum of Archaeology and Ethnography, University of São Paulo, when she was studying for a PhD at the University of Exeter.

- Advertisement -

Dr Watling said: “The fact that these sites lay hidden for centuries beneath mature rainforest really challenges the idea that Amazonian forests are ‘pristine ecosystems`.

“We immediately wanted to know whether the region was already forested when the geoglyphs were built, and to what extent people impacted the landscape to build these earthworks.”

Geoglyph photos. CREDIT Jenny Watling

Using state-of-the-art methods, the team members were able to reconstruct 6000 years of vegetation and fire history around two geoglyph sites. They found that humans heavily altered bamboo forests for millennia and small, temporary clearings were made to build the geoglyphs.

Instead of burning large tracts of forest – either for geoglyph construction or agricultural practices – people transformed their environment by concentrating on economically valuable tree species such as palms, creating a kind of ‘prehistoric supermarket’ of useful forest products. The team found tantalizing evidence to suggest that the biodiversity of some of Acre’s remaining forests may have a strong legacy of these ancient ‘agroforestry’ practices.

Dr. Watling said: “Despite the huge number and density of geoglyph sites in the region, we can be certain that Acre’s forests were never cleared as extensively, or for as long, as they have been in recent years.

“Our evidence that Amazonian forests have been managed by indigenous peoples long before European Contact should not be cited as justification for the destructive, unsustainable land-use practiced today. It should instead serve to highlight the ingenuity of past subsistence regimes that did not lead to forest degradation, and the importance of indigenous knowledge for finding more sustainable land-use alternatives”.

The full article will be released in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA and involved researchers from the universities of Exeter, Reading and Swansea (UK), São Paulo, Belém and Acre (Brazil). The research was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, National Geographic, and the Natural Environment Research Council Radiocarbon Facility.

To conduct the study, the team extracted soil samples from a series of pits dug within and outside of the geoglyphs. From these soils, they analysed ‘phytoliths’, a type of microscopic plant fossil made of silica, to reconstruct ancient vegetation; charcoal quantities, to assess the amount of ancient forest burning; and carbon stable isotopes, to indicate how ‘open’ the vegetation was in the past.

UNIVERSITY OF EXETER

- Advertisement -
spot_img
Mark Milligan
Mark Milligan
Mark Milligan is multi-award-winning journalist and the Managing Editor at HeritageDaily. His background is in archaeology and computer science, having written over 7,500 articles across several online publications. Mark is a member of the Association of British Science Writers (ABSW), the World Federation of Science Journalists, and in 2023 was the recipient of the British Citizen Award for Education, the BCA Medal of Honour, and the UK Prime Minister's Points of Light Award.
spot_img

Mobile Application

spot_img

Related Articles

Study confirms palace of King Ghezo was site of voodoo blood rituals

A study, published in the journal Proteomics, presents new evidence to suggest that voodoo blood rituals were performed at the palace of King Ghezo.

Archaeologists search for home of infamous Tower of London prisoner

A team of archaeologists are searching for the home of Sir Arthur Haselrig, a leader of the Parliamentary opposition to Charles I, and whose attempted arrest sparked the English Civil War.

Tartessian plaque depicting warrior scenes found near Guareña

Archaeologists from the Institute of Archaeology of Mérida (IAM) and the CSIC have uncovered a slate plaque depicting warrior scenes at the Casas del Turuñuelo archaeological site.

Archaeologists find a necropolis of stillborn babies

Excavations by the National Institute for Preventive Archaeological Research (Inrap) have unearthed a necropolis for stillborn and young children in the historic centre of Auxerre, France.

Researchers find historic wreck of the USS “Hit ‘em HARDER”

The Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC) has confirmed the discovery of the USS Harder (SS 257), an historic US submarine from WWII.

Archaeologists uncover Roman traces of Vibo Valentia

Archaeologists from the Superintendent of Archaeology Fine Arts and Landscape have made several major discoveries during excavations of Roman Vibo Valentia at the Urban Archaeological Park.

Archaeologists uncover crypts of the Primates of Poland

Archaeologists have uncovered two crypts in the collegiate church in Łowicz containing the Primates of Poland.

Giant prehistoric rock engravings could be territorial markers

Giant rock engravings along the Upper and Middle Orinoco River in South America could be territorial markers according to a new study.