The Amazon’s Surprising Sprawling Nomadic Community History

The natural wonder that is the Amazon basin may not be so natural at all.  It may have been created, carefully, meticulously, by a close-knit nomadic culture that had a population of a million people or more.

The archeological evidence coming out of the Amazon basin is increasingly showing this culture existed, and it shatters all of the assumptions archeologists have previously held regarding the pre-history of the Amazon Basin area.


A Deserted, Pristine Stretch of the Amazon Was Home to a Million Humans

“There is a common misconception that the Amazon is an untouched landscape, home to scattered, nomadic communities,” co-author and University of Exeter postdoctoral research fellow Jonas Gregorio de Souza, Ph.D., explained in a statement released Tuesday. “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 archeological remains they discovered are all that’s left of a broad network of villages that once thrived in what is now the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso. Hundreds of villages, they discovered, existed in rainforest regions away from major rivers — fortified villages surrounded by mysterious earthwork designs called geoglyphs. Etched into the ground and resembling square, circular, or hexagonal shapes, these geoglyphs are not well understood, but the study authors hypothesize they could have been used in ceremonial rituals.

The findings indicate that it’s time to re-evaluate the history of the Amazon. Thousands of people likely lived in these villages, write the researchers, suggesting that humans played an important role in shaping Amazonian landscapes.

When surveying Mato Grosso, the archeologists discovered 81 geoglyphs — a big find, but just a fraction of the 1,300 geoglyphs estimated to exist in this swath of Southern Amazonia. In the 1,118-mile stretch, they also encountered charcoal remains and excavated pottery, which they took as signs that villages existed in and around the area. Dating these artifacts showed that this area was continuously occupied between 1250 until 1500, by villagers connected through a network of causeways.

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