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Ancient earthworks discovered in Amazon rainforest

08 Feb 2017
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An article by Science Editor Sarah Knapton on telegraph.co.uk - Hundreds of ancient earthworks resembling Stonehenge found in Amazon rainforest - reports on hundreds of ancient earthworks in the Amazon rainforest revealed by drones.

Enclosures discovered in Amazon rainforest
450 henge earthworks revealed by drones in the Brazilian rainforest. Images: Salman Kahn & Jose Iriate.

The findings prove that prehistoric settlers in Brazil cleared large wooded areas to create large ditched enclosures. 

Discovered in Acre state in the western Brazilian Amazon, they have been concealed for centuries by trees, but modern deforestation has revealed 450 enclosures.

Scientists from the UK and Brazil believe the earthworks, known by archaeologists as geoglyphs, probably date from around the year zero.

The research was carried out by Jennifer Watling, post-doctoral researcher at the Museum of Archaeology and Ethnography, University of São Paulo, whilst studying for a PhD at the University of Exeter.

Dr Watling does not specify the function of the sites, although they may have been used for public gatherings or as ritual sites. She points to the similarity with the Neolithic causewayed enclosures found at sites such as Stonehenge in Wiltshire in the UK.

The format of the geoglyphs, with an outer ditch and inner wall enclosure, are what classicly describe henge sites. The earliest phases at Stonhenge consisted of a similarly layed-out enclosure. Although Stonehenge is around 2,500 years older than the geoglyphs found in Brazil, they are likely to represent a similar period in social development.

 
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Could they be the border of villages? Unlikely due to the lack of artefacts and defensive features such as post holes for fences found during excavation. They were probably used more sporadically, perhaps as ritual gathering places.

She states that the discovery reverses assumptions that the rainforest ecosystem has been untouched by humans. Amazonian forests have been managed by indigenous peoples long before European contact. This clearly should not be cited as justification for the destructive, unsustainable land-use practiced today. Instead, it should serve to highlight the ingenuity of past subsistence regimes that did not lead to forest degradation, and the importance of indigenous knowledge for finding more sustainable land-use alternatives.

The research was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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