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Archaeology & History

Seeking the Amazon's lost civilizations

By T.K. Randall
January 17, 2014 · Comment icon 26 comments



What secrets does the rainforest hold ? Image Credit: CC BY-SA 2.0 CIAT
How widespread were pre-Columbian civilizations within the world's largest rainforest ?
The Amazon rainforest is one of the most difficult places for archaeologists to study, not only due to its sheer size but also because undertaking an expedition to the region can prove to be both expensive and perilous.

To help make things easier, scientists have come up with a new way to look for signs of pre-Columbian settlements that can be achieved using a computer. The technique involves mapping regions of the rainforest where the soil has been intentionally enriched for agricultural purposes.
By looking for this enriched soil, known as "terra preta", researchers have been able to piece together a map of the rainforest showing the most populated regions over the last 2,500 years. This map can then be used to pinpoint regions with the highest likelihood of finding earthworks hidden beneath the forest canopy.

The results so far suggest that areas with terra preta are most commonly found in the central and Eastern regions while being less commonly found in the west where runoff from the mountains has made the soil more naturally enriched.

Source: Sciencemag.org | Comments (26)


Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #17 Posted by Peter B 9 years ago
Exactly! What part of "Get off my lawn!", do people not understand? Poor people in developing countries have fewer alternative for earning money than relatively wealthy people in First World countries. If you're a poor Brazilian and the next lot of Amazon forest is a potential source of reliable income for you, why wouldn't you try to elbow the natives off their land?
Comment icon #18 Posted by Likely Guy 9 years ago
Poor people in developing countries have fewer alternative for earning money than relatively wealthy people in First World countries. If you're a poor Brazilian and the next lot of Amazon forest is a potential source of reliable income for you, why wouldn't you try to elbow the natives off their land? Because that land isn't owned by poor people. It's 'owned' (I use the term loosely) by lumber barons and cattle kings.
Comment icon #19 Posted by hammerclaw 9 years ago
Ever wonder why the Europeans weren't wiped out by diseases they picked up from the indigenous peoples? Why didn't it occur both ways? From:nativeamericannetroots.netFirst, Indians had better diets and they were less likely to face starvation and hunger. The first Europeans to reach North America often commented on the large size of the Indians. American Indians were larger than the Europeans simply due to better diets and less starvation. Unlike the Europeans, Indian political leaders did not store their wealth but accumulated prestige by giving food to those in need. No one in an Indian vill... [More]
Comment icon #20 Posted by Calibeliever 9 years ago
From:nativeamericannetroots.net First, Indians had better diets and they were less likely to face starvation and hunger. The first Europeans to reach North America often commented on the large size of the Indians. American Indians were larger than the Europeans simply due to better diets and less starvation. Unlike the Europeans, Indian political leaders did not store their wealth but accumulated prestige by giving food to those in need. No one in an Indian village or an Indian band starved unless all did so. Secondly, American Indian populations did not have many of the infectious diseases th... [More]
Comment icon #21 Posted by Erowin 9 years ago
Ever wonder why the Europeans weren't wiped out by diseases they picked up from the indigenous peoples? Why didn't it occur both ways? According to my anthropology professor, the people in the Americas had much less sickness than Europeans! They were considerably healthier, because they did not have large domesticated livestock. The Europeans lived in close contact with flocks of sheep, herds of cow and oxen, pigs, etc. Animals are a great way to spread disease, especially when they poop everywhere- usually near the villages, since they were so important people liked to keep their animals clos... [More]
Comment icon #22 Posted by hammerclaw 9 years ago
Why don't we just leave these people alone and try to protect their habitat? That's a simple question, but I expect that the answers, such as they will be, will be complex. Why? The answer is simple; population pressure and greed.
Comment icon #23 Posted by Myles 9 years ago
Why don't we just leave these people alone and try to protect their habitat? That's a simple question, but I expect that the answers, such as they will be, will be complex. Who's "WE"? Just curious. Am I part of "we"? Is the total population of Asia, Africa, North America, Europe and Australia part of this we? Certainly other people of South America is part of this we.
Comment icon #24 Posted by Myles 9 years ago
There are still undiscovered people in this region,who don't want to be discovered,a helicopter flew over part of the region last year and when it landed the pilot reported that arrows had been launched at it but he never saw the culprits,and there was two blowpipe darts in a tyre. I don't think that this story mean that the people were undiscovered. I'm sure that couple small tribes of people are in the Amazon trying to stay secluded from other tribes who are in more contact with more advanced people. I'm not sure that the word "undiscovered" applies as much. Maybe they can find another of Kr... [More]
Comment icon #25 Posted by hammerclaw 9 years ago
Why don't we just leave these people alone and try to protect their habitat? That's a simple question, but I expect that the answers, such as they will be, will be complex.
Comment icon #26 Posted by toyomotor 9 years ago
The Pantanal region was densely populated. Flying over it you can see the remnants of a manmade landscape from horizon to horizon. It consists of hundreds of manmade heavily wooded mounds that once supported villages, as well as raised roads paralleled by canals connecting the villages and raised agricultural areas. Any one familiar with Southeast or Australasia, will realized that a tropical forest is no barrier to habitation or civilization. At that point in time, 1492, the America's tropics were just as densely populated as their Asian counterparts, that is, until the great dying. The inven... [More]


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