Humans in the Amazon Basin

4 Sep 2010

At ... the Washington Post, September 3rd, has a post on the Amazon rainforest - in this instance the section that is in Peru, below the Andes mountains. It begins by saying the idea that the Amazon Basin is a virgin environment unblemished by the excesses of human behaviour, and in fact barely touched by a human footprint, seems to be wrong. The rainforest in NE Peru hides evidence contrary to this idea - it was home to an advanced civilisation in the pre-Spanish era. This story appears to be over-hyped which probably reflects on the journalist that wrote it, and the newspaper for being a trifle too eager. The archaeological discoveries have been reported elsewhere - over a number of years. It isn't news as such so some kind of agenda may lie at the root of the presentation at this moment in time - either that or the paper has been completely out of touch. The story revolves around the estimated numbers of people, presumably with an origin on the opposite side of the Andes. It claims up to 20 million people were living in the jungle, or had hacked great spaces out of the jungle, in order to erect moats and great earthen banks, and pyramids made of mud and soil intertwined by canals and irrigation channels, evidence of a civilisation that goes back to 800AD. In Bolivia archaeologists have found evidence of civilisation which involved diverting rivers and moving tons of earth - and this occurred over 2000 years ago. At Marajo Island in the mouth of the Amazon, on the opposite side of South America, houses and pottery and evidence of agriculture have been found - and at one stage the island, it is estimated, had 100,000 inhabitants.

However, such theories involving huge numbers of people have not been swallowed by everyone, such as Betty Maggers of the Smithsonian Institute. She says the new theories are based on wishful thinking - not science. In 1541 a Spanish friar actually wrote about cities in the western rainforest zone that had highways and a fruitful landscape (agriculture) - but he was looking for El Dorado and passed them by.