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Acre Geoglyphs, South-West Amazonia

Large-scale deforestation in South-West Amazonia has recently uncovered previously hidden geometric earthworks. The existence of these so-called ‘geoglyphs’ challenges the traditional view of pre-Columbian cultural development in the hinterlands of Amazonia. Archaeological work, including remote sensing and ground survey, has so far identified 281 geoglyphs in an area of about 20,000 sq. km. The Fazenda Colorada geoglyph has received a lot of archaeological attention because of its remarkable complexity: it exhibits a long construction history, from about the first century AD to around AD 1400, and has an on-going archaeological programme of excavations by the Brazilian-Finnish project partners. The environmental impact of the geoglyphs builders is, however, still mainly unknown.

Middle Purus – Madeira Interfluve, Central Amazon

The region of the Middle Purus – Madeira Interfluve provides a unique opportunity to study pre-Columbian impact on upland ‘terra firme’ forests, far from the main river channels. Floristic inventories by Brazilian project partners show that large forested areas, previously thought to be pristine, contain a high density of economically useful species and reflect historical forest management in this interfluve. Numerous ADE sites have been discovered along the Madeira River, but archaeological work has so far been absent from the upland forests. This makes the interfluve an ideal region in which to study past human land-use and its legacy, through the application of complementary archaeological, archaeobotanical and palaeoecological techniques.

Ring-ditches of Baures, Bolivian Amazon

Not far from the Acre Geoglyphs in the eastern Bolivian Amazon, aerial survey and excavations have uncovered an unexpectedly complex system of ring-ditch villages and causeways. The site of Granja del Padre, near the modern village of Bella Vista, has been selected for further study. This is a 300 m diameter semi-circular ditch that was more than 2 m deep at the time of construction. Earlier excavation by project collaborators has radiocarbon-dated the occupation of the site to between AD 1200 and1400, whilst the analyses of plant-processing tools and sediments have revealed the consumption of a diversity of domesticated plants. However, we still know very little about the impact of these Late Holocene groups at a larger regional scale.

Santarem, Lower Amazon

Around the modern city of Santarém evidence of the Tapajós culture can be found. The culture was at its height from AD 1000 to1600 and is well known for its elaborate pottery vessels belonging to the Incised Punctuate Tradition. Living in densely populated settlements, each with several thousand inhabitants, the Tapajós controlled a territory of 23 sq km. 16th and 17th century Spanish explorers were amazed by the power of the Tapajós chiefs and by the natural and cultural richness of the area. The once powerful Tapajós chiefdom provides an outstanding opportunity to understand the origin, development and agricultural use of the Amazonian Dark Earth (ADEs), the highly modified anthropogenic soils associated with intensive farming.

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