August 28, 2008

Amazon towns disprove stereotypes

'Lost towns' discovered in AmazonThe remote Amazon river basin was once home to densely populated towns and villages, Science journal reports.

This part of the Amazon, once thought to be virgin forest, has in fact been touched by extensive human activity.

Researchers found traces of a grid-like pattern of settlements connected by road networks and arranged around large central plazas.

There is also evidence of farming and wetland management, including possible remains of fish farms.

The settlements are now almost completely overgrown by rainforest.

The ancient urban communities date back to before the first Europeans set foot in the Upper Xingu region of the Brazilian Amazon in the 15th Century.

Urban planning

Professor Mike Heckenberger, from the University of Florida, in Gainesville, said: "These are not cities, but this is urbanism, built around towns."

"They have quite remarkable planning and self-organisation, more so than many classical examples of what people would call urbanism," he said.
Amazon rainforest was giant garden cityIn the Xingu region of the Brazilian Amazon, these garden cities radiated out over a diameter of 150 miles, covering an area of 18,000 square miles that exceeds the sprawl of Los Angeles by 35 fold.

However, they only held around 50,000 people, compared with the 13 million in LA.

The extraordinary conclusion is reached by anthropologists from the University of Florida and Brazil, and a member of the Kuikuro, an indigenous people who are the descendants of the settlements' original inhabitants.

"If we look at your average medieval town or your average Greek polis, most are about the scale of those we find in this part of the Amazon," said Prof Mike Heckenberger of the University of Florida, lead author of the paper published today in the journal Science.

"Only the ones we find are much more complicated in terms of their planning."
And:The findings are important because they contradict long-held stereotypes about early Western versus early New World settlements that rest on the idea that "if you find it in Europe, it's a city.

If you find it somewhere else, it has to be something else," Prof Heckenberger said. "They have quite remarkable planning."
Comment:  These findings may reinforce the Hollywood impression that Central and South America are full of lost "temples of doom." That impression would be wrong, since these settlements are small towns, not large cities with pyramids and other edifices.

But these findings should blow up the Hollywood impression that Amazon Indians were and are so primitive that they couldn't accomplish anything. That if the ancients created a complex civilization, they couldn't have been Indians.

For more on the subject, see Indiana Jones and the Stereotypes of Doom.


dmarks said...

Quite interesting. There's a lot more like this to be found, I am sure.

And at least this is the type of discovery that Indiana Jones can't destroy.

(Dr. Jones's impact on archaeological sites is such that if he had been the one to discover the Great Pyramid, it would have been reduced to a small pile of powdered rubble after a series of hair-raising, cliff-hanging escapades.)

Anonymous said...

Cool with the Amazon being a large city. But this just goes to show that humans have always changed our environment to fit our needs.

dmarks: Actually, he would reduce it to rubble twice. (Spielberg considered making a "Special Edition" of his movies. But then he apparently saw Star Wars fans' reactions and wisely changed his mind.)