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Fortified villages found in 'uninhabited' Amazon
2018/04/10

PARIS - Areas of the Amazon previously thought to be uninhabited may have been home to up to 1 million people in the centuries before Christopher Columbus arrived, new archaeological research has found.

Scientists from Britain and Brazil uncovered evidence of hundreds of fortified villages in the rain forest away from the major rivers - areas long thought untouched by human civilization before Europeans arrived in the late 15th century.

The findings, published on Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications, follows the discovery of extensive earthworks and fortifications in another region of Brazil, bordering on Peru.

Researchers now believe such pre-Columbian habitations could stretch over an area as wide as 400,000 square kilometers, and may have been home to between 500,000 and 1 million people.

Fortified villages found in 'uninhabited' Amazon

The discovery of 81 new archaeological sites dating back to 1250-1500 - among them 104 large geometric earthworks - was based in part on satellite images.

Excavations at 24 sites uncovered ceramics, polished stone axes and samples of fertilized soil, as well as ancient rubbish pits called middens.

Analyzing charcoal remains and excavated pottery, the researchers found that a 1,800-kilometer stretch of southern Amazonia was continuously occupied from 1250 until 1500 by people living in fortified villages.

With huge swathes of the Amazon still unexplored by archaeologists, the findings challenge the assumption that ancient communities necessarily lived on floodplains close to the main waterways.

"There is a common misconception that the Amazon is an untouched landscape, home to scattered, nomadic communities," said Jonas Gregorio de Souza, a researcher from the archaeology department at Britain's Exeter University.

"This is not the case. We have found that some populations away from the major rivers are much larger than previously thought, and these people had an impact on the environment which we can still find today."

The researchers believe there were between 1,000 and 1,500 enclosed villages in the area, with two-thirds of the sites yet to be uncovered.

The sites varied in size, from enclosures surrounded by man-made ditches - also known as geoglyphs - measuring 30 meters in diameter, to structures 400 meters across around a circular plaza radiating sunken roads.

Earlier research uncovered 450 similar geoglyphs in Brazil's Acre state, which borders Peru in the western Amazon spanning 13,000 square km, but few artifacts were found.

"We need to re-evaluate the history of the Amazon," said Professor Jose Iriarte, also of Exeter University.

Agence France-presse

 

(China Daily 03/29/2018 page11)

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