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Pre-Columbian Civilization in the Amazon
New findings in the journal Science suggest that, before Columbus' arrival in the New World, at least some regions of the Amazon were densely settled and outfitted with well-engineered public works such as plazas, roads, moats and bridges.
While the once-dominant image of the pre-Columbian Amazon as a "pristine," sparsely populated landscape has been fading, well-documented archeological evidence from this time has been lacking until now, according to Michael J. Heckenberger and his co-authors.
Heckenberger's team, which includes two indigenous chiefs from the region, mapped and excavated part of the Brazilian Amazon's Upper Xingu. They discovered a complex pattern of settlements, with large central plazas and linked by wide, curbed roads. Other patches of forest and wetlands seem to have been cultivated or otherwise altered, and the lasting effects on plant composition can be easily distinguished in satellite images, the authors report.
The Xinguano people who inhabited these settlements haven't disappeared, but their numbers have shrunk drastically since European colonists arrived on the continent.
24 September 2003