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Satellite Images Reveal 81 Pre-Hispanic Settlements in the Amazon

Historical accounts from the 18th century attest that the Upper Tapajós Basin was once densely populated with large villages connected by roads. Nevertheless, for many years, the prevailing theory among archaeologists was that pre-Hispanic settlements in the Amazon were clustered mainly around the fertile lands near the floodplains. Large swaths of the Amazon, particularly regions situated at a distance from major waterways, remain largely unexplored by researchers. Now, as Sarah Kaplan reports for the Washington Post, new research in the savannah-like region near Brazil’s border with Bolivia shows that ancient human activity in the Amazon was far more robust and wide-ranging than experts previously thought.

By studying satellite imagery, researchers from the UK and Brazil found traces of 81 settlements in the Upper Tapajós Basin. The aerial surveys revealed the remains of dozens of geoglyphs—mysterious, geometric earthworks that may have been used during ritual ceremonies. Villages have often been found near, or even inside geoglyphs, and when archaeologists explored 24 of the sites uncovered by the satellite images, they unearthed stone tools, ceramic fragments, garbage piles, and terra preta, an enriched soil that has been found in other parts of the Amazon. According to Nicola Davis of the Guardian, the team also discovered evidence of fortifications, sunken roads and platforms where houses once stood.


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