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WOOD PILE
Amazon forest was transformed by ancient people: study
by Staff Writers
Miami (AFP) Feb 6, 2017


Study details ancient earthworks construction in the Amazon
Sao Paulo (UPI) Feb 6, 2017 - Scientists have discovered more than 450 earthworks in the western Brazilian Amazon. The large geometrical geoglyphs in the Brazilian state of Acre were constructed by indigenous people more two thousand years ago, prior to the arrival of European people.

For most of their history, the geoglyphs, large ditched enclosures, remained hidden by trees. Modern deforestation has revealed their presence.

"The fact that these sites lay hidden for centuries beneath mature rainforest really challenges the idea that Amazonian forests are 'pristine ecosystems,'" Jennifer Watling, a post-doctoral researcher at the Museum of Archaeology and Ethnography at the University of Sao Paolo, said in a news release. "We immediately wanted to know whether the region was already forested when the geoglyphs were built, and to what extent people impacted the landscape to build these earthworks."

Analysis suggests the land around the geoglyphs was altered for thousands of years, but never on a grand scale -- no clearcutting or field burning. Instead, small clearings were made to allow for the creation of the earthworks. Indigenous people also altered the forest by encouraging the growth of preferred species.

"Despite the huge number and density of geoglyph sites in the region, we can be certain that Acre's forests were never cleared as extensively, or for as long, as they have been in recent years," Watling said.

Watling was working toward her PhD at the University of Exeter when the research was conducted.

Because few artifacts have been recovered from the earthworks, Watling and her colleagues don't believe the buildings served as shelter or villages. They were likely gathering places with spiritual significance -- gathering places managed with a refined ecological consciousness.

"Our evidence that Amazonian forests have been managed by indigenous peoples long before European Contact should not be cited as justification for the destructive, unsustainable land-use practiced today," she said. "It should instead 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.

Long before European settlers arrived in the Americas in 1492, the Amazon rainforest was transformed for thousands of years by indigenous people who carved mysterious circles into the landscape, researchers said Monday.

While the purpose of these hundreds of ditched enclosures, or geoglyphs, remains unclear, scientists say they may have served as ritual gathering places.

Modern deforestation -- coupled with aerial photographs of the landscape -- helped reveal some 450 of these geoglyphs in Acre state in the western Brazilian Amazon.

"The fact that these sites lay hidden for centuries beneath mature rainforest really challenges the idea that Amazonian forests are 'pristine ecosystems,'" said lead author Jennifer Watling, a post-doctoral researcher at the Museum of Archaeology and Ethnography, University of Sao Paulo.

Archeologists have found very few artifacts from the areas, and scientists suspect the structures -- which span 5,000 square miles (13,000 square kilometers) were not built as villages or for defensive reasons.

Rather, they believe humans altered the bamboo forests and built small, temporary clearings "concentrating on economically valuable tree species such as palms, creating a kind of 'prehistoric supermarket' of useful forest products," said the study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a peer-reviewed US scientific journal.

The research is based on state-of-the-art techniques used to reconstruct some 6,000 years of vegetation and fire history around two geoglyph sites.

Watling, who did the research while studying at the University of Exeter, said the findings show the area was not -- contrary to popular belief -- untouched by humans in the past.

"Our evidence that Amazonian forests have been managed by indigenous peoples long before European contact should not be cited as justification for the destructive, unsustainable land-use practiced today," she added.

"It should instead 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."


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