The discovery provides insight into what the Amazon could have been like before the arrival of Europeans.
Stretching across northwestern Brazil and extending into Colombia, Peru, and five other countries, the Amazon is the world’s largest tropical rainforest. The Amazon, covering more than 2.1 million square miles of terrain, was once thought to be untouched by human civilization. However, several discoveries have indicated that the land has been heavily influenced by people who inhabited it.
On March 26, 2018, it was announced that 81 villages were uncovered in a small region in the Amazon’s upper Tapajós Basin, an area that was previously considered uninhabited.
In another twist, it’s believed that as many as one million people lived there. These populations likely inhabited the land between 1410 and 1460 A.D. before European’s arrived towards the end of the 1400s and early 1500s.
The sites were first spotted through satellite imagery.
Deforestation gave way to the visibility of previous human activity, namely ditches that had been built around the sites which indicate a method of defense and keeping out intruders. There were also raised platforms that had been built where houses would have stood on.
“The idea that the Amazon was a pristine forest, untouched by humans, home to scattered nomadic populations … we already knew that was not true,” said Dr. Jonas Gregorio de Souza, who is an author of the study from the University of Exeter and published in the journal Nature Communications. “The big debate,” he said, “is how populations were distributed in pre-Columbian times in the Amazon.”
The team also found polished stone axes and fragments of ceramics. Wood charcoal associated with these fragments found at one of the sites was carbon-dated, which gave the researchers the timeframe of when these people lived in the discovered villages. Fertile dark earth in the area was another major clue, as it’s a sign of long-term human habitation.
The new findings are exciting for several reasons. First, they indicate that many more people lived in the Amazon than previously thought. It also fills a major gap in the history of the Amazon and provides insight into what the Amazon could have been like before the arrival of Europeans. Additionally, the research indicates that hundreds more of these villages existed.
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