Archaeologists from the University of Exeter have uncovered evidence of thriving communities in regions of the Amazon that were previously believed to have never been inhabited. Hundreds of villages that were developed in the rainforest away from major rivers were home to up to a million people who spoke different languages.
There are vast areas of the Amazon that have not been investigated due to the assumption that ancient people preferred to live close to waterways.
“There is a common misconception that the Amazon is an untouched landscape, home to scattered, nomadic communities. This is not the case,” said study co-author Dr. Jonas Gregorio de Souza. “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 Amazon is crucial to regulating the Earth’s climate, and knowing more about its history will help everyone make informed decisions about how it should be cared for in the future.”
The archaeologists found the remains of fortified villages in a region which is now the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso. They also documented the discovery of earthworks called geoglyphs, which are man-made ditches with mysterious square, circular, or hexagonal shapes. The earthworks may have been used as part of ceremonial rituals.
The analysis of charcoal remains and excavated pottery revealed that an 1,800- kilometer stretch of the southern Amazon was continuously occupied from 1250 until 1500. The experts believe they will ultimately find evidence of up to 1,500 fortified villages, yet only a third of this number has been found so far.
“We are so excited to have found such a wealth of evidence,” said study co-author Professor José Iriarte. “Most of the Amazon hasn’t been excavated yet, but studies such as ours mean we are gradually piecing together more and more information about the history of the largest rainforest on the planet.”
“Our research shows we need to re-evaluate the history of the Amazon. It certainly wasn’t an area populated only near the banks of large rivers, and the people who lived there did change the landscape. The area we surveyed had a population of at least tens of thousands.”
The study is published in the journal Nature Communications.
By Chrissy Sexton, Earth.com Staff Writer
Image Credit: University of Exeter