Ancient earthworks discovered in the Amazon rainforest

Archaeologists find previously undocumented geoglyphs using drone footage

©Salman Kahn and José Iriarte

The ongoing deforestation of the Amazon, which threatens to destroy the natural habitat of countless plant and animal species, has been increasingly worrying both environmental activists and state authorities all around the world for the past few decades. However, this harmful human activity has also brought about an unexpected positive discovery revealing clues about ancient human settlements in the rainforest.

Archaeologists from the UK and Brazil flew drones over the area, discovering 450 earthworks which had previously been concealed by trees, but are now visible due to deforestation. The circular furrows found in the western Brazilian state of Acre resemble that which runs around the prehistoric site Stonehenge, although they are believed not to date as far back as the one in Britain, with the Stonehenge ensemble estimated to be 2,500 years older than the earthworks recently discovered in the Amazon rainforest, which are thought to have been created around the year zero. On the other hand, the latter seem to be more regular than similar Neolithic enclosures such as the one at Stonehenge.

©Damian Grady, English Heritage

The function of the newly found sites is unknown, but archaeologists assume that the earthworks, also known as geoglyphs, served a purpose similar to those of other such structures, namely as public gathering places for rituals. The fact that only few artefacts were excavated from these areas indicates occasional occupation and thus a low likelihood of permanent settlement (in the form of villages). A key meaning of the discovery challenges a piece of common knowledge according to which the Amazon is a pristine ecosystem, which had not been altered by human activity before the arrival of the Europeans on the American continent.


English-German glossary:

footage = Bildmaterial

ongoing = fortlaufend

deforestation = Entwaldung

to threaten = drohen

worrying = besorgniserregend

state authorities = Staatsbehörden

harmful = schädlich

clues = Hinweise

ancient human settlements = altertümliche menschliche Niederlassungen

earthworks = Erdarbeiten

to conceal = verheimlichen

circular furrows = kreisförmige Furchen

to run around = (hier) umringen

to date back to = stammen aus

regular = (hier) gleichmäßig

enclosures = (hier) Umgrenzungen

to serve a purpose = einem Ziel dienen

gathering places = Versammlungsorte

to excavate = ergraben

occasional = gelegentlich

occupation = (hier) Besetzung

likelihood = Wahrscheinlichkeit

permanent = dauerhaft

to challenge = herausfordern

common knowledge = allgemein bekannte Tatsache

pristine = unberührt

to alter = verändern

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