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For at least 12,000 years, Indigenous societies have called the Amazon basin home, but for archaeologists, finding evidence of these ancient communities is often inhibited by the region’s dense forest. Thanks to remote-sensing LiDAR, or light detection and ranging technology, researchers Vinicius Peripato and Luiz Aragão of Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research led surveys that identified 24 previously undocumented earthworks. Recently publishing their findings in Science, they share:
These ancient Indigenous societies had profound knowledge of earthmoving, riverine dynamics, soil enrichment, and plant and animal ecology, which allowed them to create domesticated landscapes that were more productive for humans. With earthmoving techniques, Indigenous peoples created a wide variety of earthworks (i.e., ring ditches, geoglyphs, ponds, and wells), mostly between 1,500 and 500 years before present, with social, ceremonial, and defensive functions.
Stunning aerial photographs taken in the raking light of the late afternoon reveal monumental geometric shapes in the land, often seen in clusters or concentric arrangements. Using distribution models and comparing the abundance of large-scale archaeological sites across the area, the scientists suggest that between 10,000 and 24,000 sites remain undiscovered across Amazonia’s 2.59 million square miles.
Peripato, Aragão, and their team also uncovered evidence of domesticated tree species, proposing that some of the the societies actively practiced forestry. “These archaeological legacies can play a role in present-day debates around Indigenous territorial rights,” the researchers say. “They serve as tangible proof of an ancestor’s occupation, way of life, and their relationship with the forest.”
Explore more of the team’s research in-depth on Science.
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