Monday, February 13, 2017

Hundreds of Amazonian Geoglyphs Resembling Stonehenge Challenge Perceptions of Human Intervention in the Rainforest

Ancient Origins

Hundreds of enormous and mysterious ancient earthworks bearing a resemblance to those at Stonehenge were built in the Amazon rainforest a couple thousand years ago, as scientists have discovered after flying drones over the area. The Unknown Function of the Sites and Their Resemblance to Stonehenge The function of these puzzling sites remains a mystery, but several experts believe they are unlikely to have been villages, since archaeologists haven’t managed to recover many artifacts during excavations. Yet the fact that many of them are clustered on a 200 meter (656.17 ft.) high plateau implies that they may have been used for defense. However, other experts have suggested they were used for drainage or for channeling water since most were placed near spring water sources.

But Jenny Watling, an archaeologist at the University of São Paulo in Brazil and leader of the current research, sees a clear resemblance between the Amazonian sites with those of Stonehenge, as Telegraph reports,

"It is likely that the geoglyphs were used for similar functions to the Neolithic causewayed enclosures, i.e. public gathering, ritual sites. It is interesting to note that the format of the geoglyphs, with an outer ditch and inner wall enclosure, are what classicly describe henge sites. The earliest phases at Stonhenge consisted of a similarly layed-out enclosure."

One of the ring ditches found in the Amazon (Jenny Watling) and Stonehenge. (English Heritage)

Despite Stonehenge being around 2,500 years older than the geoglyphs found in Brazil, Watling seems confident that they are likely to represent a similar period in social development. It’s also interesting that until recently, it was believed that the earthworks dated to around 200 AD. However, the latest study has revealed that they are, in fact, much older.

New Study Suggests that the Rainforest Ecosystem has been Untouched by Humans
The unusual earthworks, known by archaeologists as “geoglyphs’’ are estimated to be nearly 2,000 years old, and include square, straight, and ring-like ditches. According to Jenny Watling, the geoglyphs were discovered in the 1980s, when deforestation for cattle ranching and other agricultural purposes exposed them. Since then, hundreds of the earthen foundations have been found in a region more than 150 miles (241.40 km) across, covering northern Bolivia and Brazil’s Amazonas state. The ditches were sculpted from the clay-rich soils of the Amazon and are typically around 36 feet (11 meters) wide and 13 feet (4 meters) deep. It is estimated that they were dug at various times between the 1st and 15th centuries.

One of the square geoglyphs. (Diego Gurgel)

"There's been a very big debate circling for decades now about how pristine or man-made the Amazonian forests are," Watling told Live Science, suggesting that despite human involvement in the area, the rainforest ecosystem has been relatively untouched by humans. “The fact that these sites lay hidden for centuries beneath mature rainforest really challenges the idea that Amazonian forests are ‘pristine ecosystems,” said Dr. Watling, who added,

“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. 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.

Two ring henges. (University of Exeter)

Top Image: Both round and square enclosures were discovered by drones in the Amazon rainforest region. Source: Salman Kahn and José Iriarte

By Theodoros Karasavvas

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