Millenia-Old Amazonian Practices Worthy Of Marvel

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New research suggests people were sustainably managing the Amazon rain forest much earlier than was previously thought. Credit Jenny Watling

Anything with the word Amazon in it, when it refers to the rainforest ecosystem in South America, is worthy of marvel. Joanna Klein offers this story, in the Trilobites feature at the New York Times, that is one of the more surprising finds we have seen in a long time:

Deep in the Amazon, the rain forest once covered ancient secrets. Spread across hundreds of thousands of acres are massive, geometric earthworks. The carvings stretch out in circles and squares that can be as big as a city block, with trenches up to 12 yards wide and 13 feet deep. They appear to have been built up to 2,000 years ago.

Were the broken ceramics found near the entrances used for ritual sacrifices? Why were they here? The answer remains a mystery.

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There are 450 geoglyphs concentrated in Brazil’s Acre State. Credit Jenny Watling

For centuries, the enigmatic structures remained hidden to all but a few archaeologists. Then in the 1980s, ranchers cleared land to raise cattle, uncovering the true extent of the earthworks in the process. More than 450 of these geoglyphs are concentrated within Acre State in Brazil.

Since the discovery, archaeological study of the earthworks and other evidence has challenged the notion that the rain forests of the Amazon were untouched by human hands before the arrival of European explorers in the 15th century. And while the true purpose of the geoglyphs remains unknown, a study published on Monday in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences offers new insight into the lives of the ancient people who lived in the Amazon. Thousands of years before the earthworks were built, humans were managing the forests, using what appear to be sustainable agricultural practices.

“Our study was looking at the environmental impact that the geoglyph builders had on the landscape,” said Jennifer Watling, an archaeologist at the University of São Paulo, Brazil, who conducted the research while a student at the University of Exeter in Britain. “A lot of people have the idea that the Amazon forests are pristine forests, never touched by humans, and that’s obviously not the case.”…

Read the whole story here.

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