New Research Suggests Amazon Was Densely Populated In Areas Thought To Be Untouched By Humans

Aerial photo, showing a 140 metre diameter hilltop circular enclosure, strong evidence of Pre-Columbian settlement.

An 1800 kilometer stretch of Pre-Columbian settlements was discovered by researchers in the Amazon, witch means that the history of the region will soon be rewriten.

Nature Communications journal reported the discovery suggesting that areas of Amazonia previously thought to be completely free of human touch (at least prior to Spanish colonization) were in fact densely populated in the past.

Therefore, the role of human activity in shaping the environment must be seriously re-evaluated.

‘We model earthwork distribution in this broad region using recorded sites, with environmental and terrain variables as predictors, estimating that earthworks will be found over ~400,000 km2 of southern Amazonia.’

We conclude that the interfluves and minor tributaries of southern Amazonia sustained high population densities, calling for a re-evaluation of the role of this region for Pre-Columbian cultural developments and environmental impact.’ said the research team.

Jonas Gregorio de Souza of the University of Exeter, UK, made the finding using a combination of excavation, remote sensing and survey data to examine Upper Tapajós Basin landscapes.

Upper Tapajós Basin is an area of about 492,000 square kilometers in Brazil and it accounts for around 7% of the Amazon basin.

This type of area has been largely ignored by archaeologists, de Souza and his colleagues explain, because of “traditional views that Pre-Columbian people concentrated on resource-rich floodplains”.

This assumption has now been proven to be very wrong. Citing earthworks such as ditched enclosures, the researchers confidently identify about 81 settlements along tributaries and interfluvial zones, dating them between approximately 1250 and 1500 CE.

The research team estimated that a similar population density existed during the period across about 400,000 square kilometers of southern Amazonia.

These incredible finds provide new evidence that link Pre-Columbian populations across the Amazon basin from east to west, suggesting that many different cultures and language groups are interconnected despite “a diversity of traditions and socio-political trajectories”.

The team dismissed the standard idea that holds Pre-Columbian society to have been focused on major waterways, and show that there were also “parallel networks of complex societies” that formed regional systems as well.

Discoveries like these are of clear interest to every historian and archaeologists, also carry significant implications for biologists and ecologists.

Seems like the Upper Tapajós Basin is far from being untouched by human activity.

‘An understanding of the historical role of humans in shaping Amazonian landscapes, and to what extent these forests were resilient to historical disturbance, is critical to making informed policy decisions on sustainable futures,’ the researchers advise.