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Parts of the Amazon thought uninhabited were actually home to up to a million people

Archaeologists have uncovered evidence that there were hundreds of villages in the rainforest away from major rivers.

File photo
File photo
Image: Jess Kraft via Shutterstock

PARTS OF THE Amazon previously thought to have been almost uninhabited were actually home to thriving populations of up to a million people, according to new research.

Huge parts of the Amazon remain unexplored by archaeologists, particularly areas away from major rivers. People had assumed communities had preferred to live near these waterways, but new evidence shows this wasn’t the case.

Archaeologists have uncovered evidence that there were hundreds of villages in the rainforest away from major rivers. These villages were home to different communities speaking varied languages who had an impact on the environment around them.

A team of archaeologists from the University of Exeter found the remains of fortified villages and mysterious earthworks calls geoglyphs – man-made ditches with strange, circular or hexagonal shapes.

Experts still don’t know the purpose of these earthworks, as some show no evidence of being occupied. It has been suggested that they were used as part of ceremonial rituals.

The discovery

The team uncovered the remains in the current Brazilian state of Mato Grosso.

By analysing charcoal remains and excavated pottery they have found a 1,800km stretch of southern Amazonia was continuously occupied from 1250 to 1500 by people living in fortified villages.

The experts estimate that there would have been between 1,000 and 1,500 enclosed villages and two-thirds of these sites are yet to be discovered.

The study shows there are an estimated 1,300 geoglyphs across Southern Amazonia, with 81 found in the area surveyed as part of this research. Villages are often found nearby or inside the geoglyphs. They are connected through a network of causeways and some have been elaborately constructed over many years.

Dr Jonas Gregorio de Souza, from the University of Exeter’s Department of Archaeology, said: “There is a common misconception that the Amazon is an untouched landscape, home to scattered, nomadic communities. This is not the case.

“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.

Professor Jose Iriarte, from the University of Exeter, said: “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 a least tens of thousands.”

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