The idea of a pristine pre-hispanic Amazon region with few and scatter small tribes is being challenged by a new archaeological discovery that includes the remains of fortified villages and a series of geoglyphs, or human-made ditches thought to be used in ceremonial rituals.
Jonas Gregorio de Souza, an archaeologist at the University of Exeter, said "there is a common misconception that the Amazon is an untouched landscape, home to scattered, nomadic communities. This is not the case."
Archaeologists from the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom found remains in a 1,800 kilometer stretch of land in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso. Archaeologists believe the area was continuously occupied from 1250 until 1500 by people living in fortified villages.
Experts estimate that two-thirds of these sites are yet to be discovered.
Using satellite imagery to create a computer model that took into account everything from soil pH to precipitation levels, the team revealed there are likely 1,300 geoglyphs across 400,000 square kilometers of a previously unexplored area of the Brazilian Amazon.
Villages were often found near or inside the geoglyphs and were found to be connected through a network of roads.
The computer predicted that population densities must have been between 500,000 and 1 million in just seven percent of the Amazon basin. Former estimates posited that 2 million people lived in the entire Amazon basin.
Vast areas of the Amazon, particularly those away from major rivers, are still unexplored by archaeologists due to the predominant assumption that pre-hispanic communities preferred to live near rivers. However, new evidence shows there were hundreds of villages far away from major rivers.
Jose Iriarte, an archaeologist at the University of Exeter and the study’s primary author, said: "We need to re-evaluate the history of the Amazon. It certainly wasn't an area populated only near the banks of large rivers, and the people who lived there did change the landscape."